From spotting the nēnē goose, the official state bird of Hawaii, to watching dolphins and whales play in the waters surrounding the island, Oahu is an excellent location for wildlife enthusiasts. Whether you’re lounging along the beach, hiking a challenging trail, or relaxing aboard a luxury boat, there are a wide range of wildlife viewing opportunities for visitors to Hawaii. It may come as no surprise that some of the very best wildlife watching spots happen to be located under the water, but there’s plenty to see even for those who prefer to keep their feet on dry land. On your island vacation, be sure to add these top five Oahu wildlife watching spots to your itinerary!

James Campbell National Oahu Wildlife Refuge

Situated along Oahu’s north shore, the James Campbell National Wildlife Refuge is one of the few natural wetland areas that still exist on the island. The refuge was begun in order to provide additional habitats for endangered waterbirds, migratory shorebirds, waterfowl, seabirds, endangered Hawaiian monk seals, and threatened Hawaiian green sea turtles. Catch sight of the pueo (the Hawaiian short-eared owl), as well as other native and migratory birds on a bird walk through the refuge.

Waimea Wall

This underwater location is one of the island’s top scuba diving spots. Located on the island’s north shore, you’ll descend into water that is 25 to 60 feet deep to explore this underwater playground. Once you’ve introduced yourself to the underwater world, you’ll spot Honolulu wildlife such as whitetip reef sharks, eagle rays, lobster, and a variety of shellfish. A well-established outfitter to scuba dive at Waimea Wall is Island Divers Hawaii, who also offers other scuba excursions around the island. On some of the other scuba diving expeditions you can expect to encounter wildlife such as spotted puffer fish, moray eels, triggerfish, fantail filefish, manta rays, moorish idols, green turtles, spotted eagle rays, octopi, and unicorn fish, among many others.

Sea Life Park Hawaii

Enjoy up close and personal dolphin and shark encounters at Sea Life Park Hawaii! Shows, hands-on experience, and educational talks all work together to provide the complete animal experience. Observe reef sharks in the pool and watch baby sharks being fed or take in a breathtaking dolphin show at the Dolphin Lagoon. For those who have always dreamed of swimming alongside dolphins, those dreams can come true at Sea Life Park Hawaii! Opportunities to engage in playtime with sea lions and touch small creatures in the touch pool such as sea stars, urchins, and baby sea turtles are also available. Hawaiian waters are filled with these fascinating sea creatures, and Sea Life Park Hawaii provides the opportunity to view them from a closer vantage point!

Hanauma Nature Preserve

What was formerly used by Hawaiian royalty as a site for fishing and recreation is now a protected marine life conservation area ideal for observing some of Hawaii’s many tropical fish and marine life species that call these waters home. The first stop will be the marine education center, where a mandatory 9-minute video educates visitors on the marine life, preservation, and safety rules for the park. Reservations to visit the park are required in order to protect this pristine marine ecosystem from overuse. The bay is a top snorkeling destination on the islands and provides an excellent environment for snorkelers of all ability levels. A sandy entry and a vast coral reef near the shore is excellent for beginners, while more advanced snorkelers can venture out into deeper waters. Enjoy some underwater Oahu wildlife watching from the pristine waters of Hanauma Nature Preserve!

Dolphin & Whale Watching Boat Excursion

Though you may be lucky enough to spot a passing dolphin or whale spout from the shoreline, these sightings are few and far between. To get a chance to observe these playful creatures up close in their natural habitat, the best option is to embark on a dolphin or whale watching boat excursion. Ko Olina Ocean Adventures is a top outfitter that offers excursions from the island’s southwest shore. Their sail and snorkel adventure whisks you away from shore on a beautiful catamaran, where you can literally sail off into the sunset. Hawaiian spinner dolphins can often be seen leaping and playing right alongside the boat. During whale watching season, which falls during the months of December through March, Alaska humpback whales can often be spotted. Many boat excursions also include a stop at a coral reef, where you can snorkel from the boat alongside tropical reef fish and Hawaiian green sea turtles.

Still in search of Oahu accommodations? At Ola Properties, we offer upscale Oahu vacation rentals along the island’s sunny west coast. Enjoy easy access to the top Honolulu wildlife watching spots on Oahu from your home base in Ko Olina or Makaha. Contact us today to learn more!