Save money on your next flight

Skyscanner is the world’s leading flight search engine, helping you find the cheapest flights to destinations all over the world.

With crystal clear waters and abundant marine life, Hawaii is home to a diverse population of sharks ranging from small reef sharks to larger pelagic species. If you’re wondering what sharks you might encounter in Hawaiian waters, read on for a comprehensive guide covering all the species found around the islands.

In short, the most common sharks spotted in Hawaii are reef sharks like whitetips, blacktips, gray reef sharks, as well as larger sharks like tiger sharks and Galapagos sharks. Whale sharks and hammerheads also make appearances seasonally.

Reef Sharks

Whitetip Reef Sharks

Whitetip reef sharks are one of the most common sharks found in Hawaiian waters. They are small in size, reaching about 5-6 feet long, and have distinctive white-tipped dorsal and tail fins (hence the name!).

These sharks are found resting in caves and under ledges during the day and become more active at night to feed. Whitetips mostly eat fish, octopus, crustaceans, and other small bottom-dwelling animals. While generally shy, whitetip reef sharks may bite if provoked.

Blacktip Reef Sharks

Blacktip reef sharks, known for their prominent black fin tips, are another reef shark commonly spotted around Hawaii. Growing to about 5-6 feet long, blacktips are very fast and active predators that hunt in the reefs and shallow waters.

Schools of fish, octopus, lobster, and even seabirds are on the menu for these agile hunters. Blacktip reef sharks tend to be curious but cautious around divers and usually keep their distance. However, they can become aggressive in the presence of food.

Gray Reef Sharks

While not as frequently sighted as whitetips or blacktips, gray reef sharks do reside in Hawaiian waters as well. These sharks reach larger sizes of up to 8 feet and prefer deep reef environments. During the day, gray reef sharks may be found resting in caves in groups of up to 20 individuals.

At night, they emerge as skilled hunters to feed on fish, cephalopods, lobster and more. Gray reef sharks display aggressive behaviors at times and account for a modest portion of shark bites in Hawaii over the last decade, according to reports from Hawai’i’s Department of Land and Natural Resources.

Larger Coastal Species

Tiger Sharks

Tiger sharks are one of the larger and more dangerous shark species found in Hawaiian waters. They are a large coastal species that can reach lengths of over 18 feet and weights of nearly 2,000 pounds.

Tiger sharks are notable for having extremely sharp teeth and being responsible for many shark attacks on humans.

Research indicates there may be around 350-500 tiger sharks living around the Hawaiian Islands at any given time. They tend to frequent shallower waters and have been spotted close to shore at many popular beaches in Hawaii.

Tiger shark attacks do infrequently occur in Hawaii, with around 5 attacks recorded over the past 20 years.

Some key facts and statistics about tiger sharks in Hawaiian waters:

  • Average length of 13-14 feet, can reach 18+ feet
  • Weigh around 1,000-1,500 pounds on average
  • Estimates of 350-500 individuals in Hawaii
  • Often travel alone or in small groups
  • Main prey items are sea turtles, monk seals, large fish
  • Responsible for around 35-45% of Hawaii’s recorded shark attacks

Galapagos Sharks

Galapagos sharks are another sizable shark species commonly found around the Hawaiian Islands. Named after the Galapagos Islands where they are abundant, Galapagos sharks can reach 10 feet in length and prefer shallow, coastal habitats.

They are most frequently observed over coral reefs and rocky areas near shore.

Galapagos sharks have a gray or brownish hue with faint vertical banding along their sides to provide camouflage. They have stout, pointed snouts and tall, triangular first dorsal fins. While generally not considered an aggressive species, Galapagos sharks will bite if provoked.

There have only been a couple documented attacks on humans.

Here are some key statistics on the Galapagos shark population in Hawaii:

  • Average length of 8-9 feet, can reach 10+ feet
  • Weigh between 200-400 pounds typically
  • Population estimates range from 5,000-30,000
  • Often travel in groups of 6-20 sharks
  • Feed mostly on reef fish, octopuses, lobsters
  • Considered a near-threatened species globally

So while the tiger and Galapagos shark occupy the same waters, the Galapagos is generally less of an imminent danger to people. Still, caution is warranted with any large shark species in Hawaii!

Pelagic Sharks

Oceanic Whitetip Sharks

The oceanic whitetip shark (Carcharhinus longimanus) is one of the most widely distributed shark species in Hawaiian waters. They are large sharks, growing over 10 feet long, with distinctive white-tipped fins that stand out against their gray bodies.

Oceanic whitetips were once extremely abundant around Hawaii, but their populations have declined drastically in recent decades.

These powerful predators are comfortable in the open ocean far from land. In Hawaii, they tend to frequent offshore waters around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands and offshore seamounts. Oceanic whitetips are opportunistic hunters that primarily feed on bony fish and squid.

Historically, they were also known to follow ships for scraps and prey on survivors of shipwrecks and downed aircraft.

While oceanic whitetip numbers are only a fraction of historical levels, they do still frequent Hawaiian waters. Divers have the best chance of encountering them around remote offshore reefs and seamounts. Snorkelers and surfers should be aware of this species when venturing far offshore.

Blue Sharks

The blue shark (Prionace glauca) is a slender, fast-swimming species found around Hawaiʻi in offshore waters. Reaching nearly 10 feet long, blue sharks have dark blue backs, bright blue sides, and white undersides. Their long pectoral fins resemble the wings of an airplane.

Blue sharks are highly migratory and travel enormous distances. Tagging research indicates they migrate from Hawaiʻi to as far away as the coast of California. They tend to frequent Hawaiian waters during the summer months before migrating elsewhere.

Blue sharks often gather in large schools segregated by size and sex while offshore.

These sharks are opportunistic predators that feed mainly on squid and small bony fish. In Hawaiian waters, they are most often encountered far offshore by fishermen. However, on rare occasions large females do wander close to shore.

While generally not considered dangerous, blue shark bites have occurred in Hawaiʻi during unusual close encounters.

Shortfin Mako Sharks

The shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus) is a species famed for its speed and jumping abilities. Reaching over 12 feet long, makos have a streamlined shape, pointed snout, and long pectoral fins. Their backs are a deep blue or purple-gray, transitioning to white undersides.

Makos are powerful, active predators that feed on tuna and other large, fast-moving prey. In Hawaii, they tend to frequent offshore waters around islands and submerged banks. Shortfin makos make occasional close passes by shorelines to attack schools of game fish.

Their incredible bursts of speed and spectacular aerial breaches capture the wonder of lucky observers.

While typically offshore, mako sharks do venture close to shore in pursuit of prey. Spearfishing Hawaii has reported mako sightings and bites off Oʻahu and Kona. Caution is warranted when fishing offshore or crossing channels between islands where food sources concentrate makos.

Seasonal Visitors

Hammerhead Sharks

The beautiful waters around Hawaii serve as a temporary home to some amazing seasonal visitors, including the unique and recognizable hammerhead shark. These sharks, known for their flattened, hammer-like heads containing specialized sensory organs, migrate through Hawaiian waters in the summer and fall to take advantage of abundant food sources like stingrays, smaller sharks, and boney fish.

The two main species spotted in Hawaii are the scalloped hammerhead and the great hammerhead. Scalloped hammerheads can reach lengths over 12 feet, while great hammerheads grow even bigger, sometimes exceeding 18 feet! Despite their intimidating appearance, attacks on humans are extremely rare.

These sharks tend to be quite shy and will flee from divers and snorkelers exploring Hawaii’s coral reefs.

TheirnumbersinHawaiifluctuatefromyeartoyearbutgenerallypeakbetweenJulyandOctober. According to data from the Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology(, over 150 hammerhead sharks have been tagged and tracked around Maui alone since 2019, with many returning to the same areas year after year.

Seeing one of these magnificent creatures in Hawaii’s waters is a memory that will surely last a lifetime!

Whale Sharks

In addition to hammerhead sharks, Hawaii also plays host to Earth’s largest fish – the gentle whale shark! These spotted giants migrate all the way from Mexico and Central America to feed for several months around Hawaii’s islands.

Growing over 40 feet long and weighing many tons, their sheer size is enough to make even experienced divers stop and stare in awe.

Luckily, despite their tremendous size, whale sharks are completely harmless to humans. They are gentle filter feeders, using their wide mouths to suck in huge quantities of tiny plankton and small fish.

Popular feeding grounds in Hawaii include shallow bays like Kawaihae on the Big Island’s Kohala Coast, where these shy leviathans gobble up clouds of egg sacks released by spawning coral reef fish.

According to researchers from the Pacific Whale Foundation(, over 300 individual whale sharks have been identified visiting Hawaii, with their numbers peaking between May and September when food availability is highest.

Snorkel tours to observe these magnificent animals are popular, but care should be taken not to interfere with their feeding or mating behaviors.

The arrival of migrating hammerhead sharks and enormous whale sharks truly makes Hawaii a global hotspot for shark diversity and abundance in the late summer months! Both species play vital roles in ocean ecosystems and remind us that sharks are not mindless man-eaters like themedia often portrays.

Their presence in Hawaii’s waters is something both residents and tourists eagerly await each year.


With over 20 species of sharks that have been spotted in Hawaiian waters, there is an impressive diversity of these predators around the islands. Most commonly seen are the reef sharks that inhabit the coral reefs and shallows, especially whitetips, blacktips and gray reef sharks.

In addition to the smaller reef dwellers, larger sharks like tiger sharks and Galapagos sharks are frequently sighted in coastal habitats. And each year, migratory open ocean sharks like makos, whale sharks and hammerheads pass by the islands seasonally.

Sharing is caring!

Similar Posts