story by Michael Egan
Green sea turtles, playful dolphins, vibrant coral reefs—getting up close to Hawai‘i’s natural beauties is hard to resist. “Oh, I've seen it myself,” says Ray Tabata, chair of the Hawai‘i Watchable Wildlife Viewing Program. “Visitors and sometimes even local people become so fascinated they’ll try to touch the animals, feed them and even ride on their backs. Unfortunately, this can do enormous damage.”
Watchable Wildlife Viewing (WWV), a national initiative, aims to help nature enthusiasts enjoy America’s magnificent outdoors without harming it (or themselves). The Hawai‘i Wildlife Viewing Guide, written by Jeanne L. Clark and published in 2006 by WWV’s Hawai‘i chapter, suggests ways to appreciate and protect Hawai‘i’s unique natural and cultural heritage. Sponsored by a dozen state agencies and nonprofit groups, including the National Park Service, NOAA, Audubon Society and the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority (HTA), the guide details thirty-one parks and reserves on all of the main islands where visitors can safely view wildlife. The text is lavishly illustrated with color photographs and sidebars with information about various native species, some famous like nene (Hawaiian geese) and kohola (humpback whales), and some perhaps less appreciated like pinao (dragonflies—Hawai‘i has twenty-three endemic species).
The guide is invaluable for both the casual tourist and the serious wildlife watcher who’s chasing specific plants and animals. Hoping for a glimpse of the rare hoary bat, Hawai‘i’s only endemic land mammal? Try Kalopa State Park on the Big Island. Monk seals? Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge on Kaua‘i. Good timing is also a prerequisite for success: Look for a hoary bat at sunset, when it leaves its roost to hunt. And don’t bother looking for kolea, the Pacific golden plover, between May and September; they’re summering in Alaska. The guide gives you the where and when for most of Hawai‘i’s wildlife.
But perhaps most important is the guide’s emphasis on “ethical viewing,” that is, enjoying wildlife with as minimal an impact as possible. Native wildlife is fascinating because it’s rare, and it’s rare because it’s fragile. Some of the recommendations are obvious (don’t touch anything, even that lazy turtle drifting so close to you it seems to want a petting), and some not so obvious (don’t feed frozen peas to reef fish; though it’s fun to watch the resulting frenzy, the fish may die from eating them). The general rule, notes Robbie Kane, HTA’s product-development manager, is to be respectful and keep your distance. “Responsible viewing is what our visitor program is all about,” she says. “We want people to enjoy the Islands in ways that don’t harm the environment or the creatures who inhabit it.” —Michael Egan
Hawai‘i Wildlife Viewing Guide