Discover the Deadliest Animals in Hawaii

Written by Cindy Rasmussen
Published: October 3, 2022
© Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com
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Watch out for Hawaiian rattlesnakes…wait, there are no snakes in Hawaii? Nice! Well, there are no native snakes in Hawaii. And owning snakes is actually illegal in Hawaii with a $200,000 fine and a sentence of up up to three years in prison! Since Hawaii is a series of islands with unique ecosystems, introducing snakes and rodents could significantly damage the native plants and animals. So, no rattlesnakes but there are sea snakes, along with a few other dangerous sea animals. You won’t have to worry about crocodiles, grizzly bears or mountain lions in Hawaii either. There is only one native mammal in Hawaii, the Hawaiian Hoary Bat, all other mammals have been introduced by humans. Most of the animals on land and in the sea live peacefully with humans, but there are some animals that can be dangerous. Let’s look at which animals in Hawaii are dangerous and whether any are deadly.

Are the Sea Snakes in Hawaii Dangerous?

Hawaii does have yellow-bellied sea snakes that live off many of the coasts. These snakes are actually common in many of the tropical coastlines throughout the world. They are considered a marine animal because they spend almost all of their time in the water and are not equipped to live on land. It is easy to recognize these snakes because they have a black back and a (you guessed it) yellow belly. Their tail is fin-like and is yellow with a black spotted pattern. You may also be able to avoid them because they tend to swim in groups, sometimes thousands together. Can you imagine Indiana Jones being dropped into a group of swimming sea snakes! If you happen upon one on the shore do not approach them or pick them up to throw them back into the sea. Humans being bitten by these snakes is rare but those that have been bitten were typically handling them which can be dangerous because their venom is toxic and could potentially lead to death if not medically treated. However, there are no known deaths in Hawaii from bites of the yellow-bellied sea snake.

Yellow-bellied sea snake washed up on the beach
Yellow-bellied sea snakes tend to swim in groups, sometimes numbering in the thousands.

©John Fader/Shutterstock.com

Are the Sharks in Hawaii Dangerous?

There are sharks in the waters surrounding Hawaii and there have been some shark attacks. According to the Florida Museum of Natural History’s International Shark Attack File, there were six unprovoked shark attacks in Hawaii in 2021. That is second highest in the country but hardly compares to the 28 attacks in Florida. Of those none were fatal with only one recorded fatality in the US and only nine worldwide, which a little less than the average of 10 per year. So, statistically, the chances are extremely low that you would be attacked or killed by a shark in Hawaii. There was an unfortunate case of a surfer that was attacked off the shores of the Honolua Bay, the location for the World Surf League’s Women’s Professional Surfing Competition, in 2020. A 56-year-old man that was surfing was attacked and although he received first aid on the shore and was rushed to the hospital, he passed away the following day. The news report provided pictures of the man’s surfboard with a clear outline of an enormous shark bite. Clearly an intimidating warning, but again this was one of only 11 fatalities worldwide that year.

Group of White-Tip Reef Sharks
Whitetip reef sharks grow up to seven feet long, but they rarely attack humans.

©Joe Morris 917/Shutterstock.com

What Other Dangerous Sea Animals Are in Hawaii?

  • Box jellyfish: Worldwide jellyfish kill more people than sharks and other marine life combined, but the jellyfish off the coast of Hawaii are not the most venomous in the world. They are also pretty predictable and only show up two days after the full moon for mating and will sometimes drift to shore during these times. Avoiding them is the best precaution but if you do get stung, slowly remove the stingers and use vinegar to help with the sting and seek medical attention if needed.
  • Stingrays vs. Manta Ray: Both are a kind of ray that lives in the waters around Hawaii. Manta rays are black and have a longer tail, while stingrays are brown and have a shorter tail, but the big difference is their tail. The manta ray does not have a stinger on its tail and is therefore not dangerous, whereas watch out for stingrays whose tail can sting you and cause a lot of pain with their venom. Seek medical attention if needed.
Deadliest Jellyfish - Box Jellyfish
Humans can suffer cardiac arrest, paralysis, and even death within minutes of being stung by a box jellyfish.

©Nuttawut Uttamaharad/Shutterstock.com

What Dangerous Land Animals in Hawaii?

It is pretty safe to go hiking in Hawaii without the usual suspects of bears, rattlesnakes or mountain lions. But you do need to watch out for some creepy-crawly critters.

Black widow spiders: These spiders are located all over the world and do exist in Hawaii. They are smaller black spiders with a red splotch on their back and only the females are venomous (but since the females frequently kill and eat the males after mating it is much more likely you would see a female). Their venom is extremely toxic but fatalities from their bites is extremely rare. There are only an average of 7 fatalities per year in the United States from spider bites.

Hawaiian cane spiders: These spiders are BIG spiders and can grow to be almost the size of your hand. They are venomous but it is not considered harmful to people. If you approached a mother that was guarding her young you might be attacked but, otherwise, they tend to keep to themselves.

Giant Centipede: The Giant Centipede in Hawaii can get to be 12 inches long and is a little wider than a finger. Their bodies are all black and they have up to 40 red legs! Pretty scary so far but add in that they are extremely venomous! Their bites are extremely painful but not typically fatal although there have been fatalities recorded worldwide. A group of researchers reported that, “Studies have shown that between 1979 and 2001, only 6 deaths in the USA are attributable to centipede bites.”

Female black widow spider guarding an egg case
Black widow venom is extremely toxic, but their bites rarely lead to death in humans.

©Chuck Evans(mcevan) / CC BY 2.5 – License

Is “Jaws the Feral Pig” the Most Dangerous Animal in Hawaii?

We all know that Jaws was a shark, but there was a feral pig off the shores off Oahu’s Kaena Point that impersonated a shark! A surfer, Ingrid Seiple, was out in the water when she saw something dark swimming toward her. She thought it was a monk seal because of the fur, but as it got closer she realized it was a wild pig. She tried to swim away and it actually came after her. She had to put her surfboard up to defend herself and the pig took a bite out of her board and then turned and swam away. She noticed that the pig was bleeding and possibly suffering from an injury which may be what caused the pig to act erratically. This seems like an isolated incident, and it is unlikely the beach patrol will need to add a pink pig flag to their beach flag warning system!

Feral pigs
Feral pigs cause a lot of damage to crops and other property by rooting for food.

©iStock.com/JohnCarnemolla

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yellow-bellied sea snake slithering on flat rock
The yellow-bellied sea snake is found in all tropical oceanic waters except for the Atlantic Ocean.
© Ken Griffiths/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

I'm a Wildlife Conservation Author and Journalist, raising awareness about conservation by teaching others about the amazing animals we share the planet with. I graduated from the University of Minnesota-Morris with a degree in Elementary Education and I am a former teacher. When I am not writing I love going to my kids' soccer games, watching movies, taking on DIY projects and running with our giant Labradoodle "Tango".

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