Sometimes referred to as the Paradise of the Pacific, Hawaii is a popular tourist destination that draws in nearly 10 million people a year.
It’s also a popular and safe hiking destination, which you can explore without the fear of bears or mountain lions, alligators, or crocodiles.
The most dangerous thing in Hawaii is the ocean, and drowning is “the leading cause of death for tourists in Hawaii,” but other dangers lurk beneath the water and underfoot.
Let’s find out what threats there are in this idyllic archipelago by uncovering the 10 most dangerous animals in Hawaii.
The Top 10 Most Dangerous Animals in Hawaii
#1 Cone Snail
Arguably, one of the archipelago’s prettiest inhabitants, the cone snail is also the most dangerous animal in Hawaii.
Hawaii is home to various types of cone snail, including the textile or “the cloth of gold” cone snail.
Highly sought after for its attractive shell, the textile cone snail is one of the most toxic species and presents a higher risk of death than many other species.
Each cone snail species has a unique set of toxins, making its stings difficult to treat.
There is no known anti-venom either, so victims need immediate medical attention. They don’t have long either, as a cone snail’s venom is so toxic, it can be fatal, with some reports claiming “it can kill in less than 9 minutes.”
The most dangerous of all cone snails is the Indo-Pacific species known as the “cigarette snail.”
No longer than a man’s thumb, this snail is so toxic that researchers believe “you’d only have time to finish one cigarette before dying from its attack.”
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#2 Yellow-Bellied Sea Snake
Thereteocially, there are no snakes in Hawaii, but the yellow-bellied sea snake didn’t receive that memo and pitched up anyway.
Yellow-bellied sea snakes are the world’s most widely distributed snake species found in tropical and sub-tropical oceans.
It’s also the only known sea snake to have taken up residence in Hawaii.
The yellow-bellied sea snake has no natural predators and is incredibly venomous. Its potentially fatal toxin causes damage to skeletal muscles, paralysis, and acute kidney failure.
As dangerous as it is, there is no evidence of a yellow-bellied sea snake causing a human death, primarily because we only encounter them when a weak or sick snake washes up on the beach.
Researchers believe some sea snake species will attack divers during mating season, mistaking them for “rivals or potential mates” but no one has witnessed the yellow-bellied sea snake performing such aggressive behavior.
#3 Box Jellyfish
Two types of box jellyfish are found in Hawaii: the Carybdea alata and Carybdea rastonii.
These species move into the waters on the west and south shores of Hawaii each month between 9 to 12 days after a full moon, along with the Portuguese Man ‘o War.
While both these box jellyfish can deliver a nasty sting, they’re not as toxic as the Irukandji jellyfish or sea wasp, which recently killed a teenager in Queensland, Australia.
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Fortunately, the species that frequent Hawaii’s beaches are relatively benign. According to a study of the Carybdea alata in Waikiki, “The rash and pain caused by these box jellyfish stings are self-limiting, usually disappearing with no treatment from 20 minutes to one day.”
The Carybdea rastonii is a little more dangerous as its venom is similar to that of the Irukandji jellyfish and can cause pain, anxiety, muscle cramping, sweating, and vomiting.
To limit the severity of a box jellyfish sting, researchers at the University of Hawaii recommend “rinsing with vinegar—which irreversibly prevents the stinging cells from firing” or plucking out the tentacles with tweezers to limit venom injection.
#4 Tiger Shark
Scientists estimate there to be around 40 different species of shark occupying the ocean off the coast of Hawaii, ranging from the 11-inch pygmy shark to the 50-foot long whale shark.
Most human-shark encounters occur with near-shore species, like scalloped hammerhead sharks, whitetip reef sharks, and tiger sharks.
The tiger shark is aggressive and opportunistic,
eating anything that comes its way, including garbage. Combined with proximity, these traits make it the most dangerous shark in Hawaiian waters.
Despite that, shark attacks are rare, even in places where humans and sharks come into contact with one another so frequently.
Since the beginning of 2021, there have been just eight shark attacks off the coast of Hawaii, of which tiger sharks were responsible for just four.
While these attacks are often severe, they’re rarely fatal. No one has died from a tiger shark attack in Hawaii since December 2020, and three of the more recent attacks were attributed to different species, namely the cookiecutter, great white, and requiem.
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#5 Crown of Thorns Starfish
The crown of thorns starfish is covered in sharp spines around 5cm long. Although they’re not aggressive animals, they are one of the most poisonous fish in Hawaii.
Each of its brittle spines contains toxins known as saponins. These enter the human body and cause intense pain, persistent bleeding, swelling, and nausea.
If the spines break off in the skin, the subsequent swelling makes them almost impossible to remove without surgical intervention. Although not fatal, the sting from a crown of thorns starfish can leave lasting damage.
Danyon Roderique-Trask was stung by a crown of thorns starfish in 2016, sustaining 14 separate puncture wounds to his right hand. Four years and eight surgeries later, he had still not regained full function of the hand.
As climate change sees the crown of thorns starfish proliferate, the risk of being stung increases with it. Not only that, ut these “voracious toxic starfish can eat through entire reef systems,” decimating environmental diversity and negatively impacting tourism.
#6 Giant Centipede
So far, we’ve only discussed the most dangerous ocean animals in Hawaii, but now it’s time to consider some of those that live on the islands themselves.
First up is the giant centipede which, in my mind, is very much the “stuff of nightmares.” Growing up to 14.5” long and around an inch wide, these fearsome creatures contain specific strings of amino acids, or peptides, that scientists have nicknamed the “spooky toxin.”
The spooky toxin causes both cardiovascular and neurotoxic symptoms and can kill a prey animal 15 times the size of the centipede in less than 30 seconds.
The Vietnamese centipede is one of the most common in Hawaii and one of the most aggressive.
You’ll experience extreme pain, swelling, and anxiety if it bites you. You could even develop more serious complications like cardiac ischemia and severe allergic reactions.
In 2014, a young Venezuelan boy died after being stung by a Vietnamese centipede lurking in his soda can. This is the only centipede-related human fatality ever recorded.
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#7 Moray Eels
Moray eels are more likely to harm a human once they’re already dead than while they’re still alive, but that isn’t always the case.
Like many species of predatory fish, moray eels contain ciguatoxins that, when eaten, can cause ciguatera poisoning. When they’re alive
, they have two sets of jaws and two sets of razor-sharp teeth that can cause a nasty bite.
Although eel bites are rare, they can be severe enough to require stitches, as Kristen Porter found out while on holiday in Waikiki in 2018. Porter was relaxing on a floating device in the inviting waters of Kuhio Beach when she felt something bite her foot.
“I knew immediately that it was something bad,” she said, “so I pulled my foot into the air, and there was blood everywhere.”
Onlookers initially thought they’d witnessed a shark attack, but a lifeguard soon identified the “thin lines of gashes” as being consistent with a bite from a moray eel.
Moray eels aren’t aggressive towards humans, and this rare attack was probably a case of mistaken identity.
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#8 Long-Spined Venomous Sea Urchins
Long-spined venomous sea urchins are so common around Hawaii that many surfers consider getting stung by one a rite of passage. Locally known as “wana,” they have two sets of spines, of which the smaller, secondary spines are the most dangerous.
The long, primary spines look terrifying, but the smaller ones contain toxin-producing tissues. Contact with these causes pain, inflammation, and discoloration at the site of the sting.
Some people may experience a potentially fatal anaphylactic reaction to a long-spined sea urchin sting. Secondary infections can also increase the severity of the injury.
#9 Southern Black Widow Spider
Hawaii has a surprisingly diverse array of poisonous spiders, and the black widow is one of the most intimidating.
Only the female black widow is potentially harmful to humans as the male is much smaller and less aggressive.
A bite from a female black widow spider is painful and due to its neurotoxic nature, causes vomiting, high blood pressure, muscle cramping, and spasms.
Although the symptoms are unpleasant, a bite from a black widow spider is rarely fatal.
Other venomous spiders in Hawaii include the brown widow spider, the brown violin spider, and the brown recluse spider.
#10 Great White Shark
Although the great white is the most dangerous shark in the world to humans, it is an infrequent visitor to Hawai’s shores and, therefore, poses a comparatively insignificant threat.
There has only been one great white shark attack reported in Hawaii, and that was in December last year.
Jared Willeford was surfing in the Kona area off the coast of the Big Island when a great white “just came head-on, mouth wide open.”
Willeford blocked the shark with his arm and received such a vicious bite in the process that he required hours of surgery and seven units of blood.
Although there hasn’t been another attack since Willeford’s, sightings of great whites in the area seem to be increasingly common.
If that trend continues, the great white might start moving its way up the list of the most dangerous animals in Hawaii.
Frequently Asked Questions About Dangerous Animals in Hawaii
Are there any Large Predators in Hawaii?
The great white shark is the largest predator in Hawaii but is an infrequent visitor, so doesn’t pose very much of a threat. On land, the great centipede is the most dangerous animal in Hawaii.
Are there Alligators or Crocodiles in Hawaii?
There are no alligators or saltwater crocodiles in Hawaii. There were some rumors about Hawaii buying saltwater crocodiles from Australia to scare away the sharks, but this was a fake news story.
Hawaii has no large predators, except for the occasional shark, and has very few creatures that are remotely interested in harming or killing a human.
A couple could be potentially fatal, but they’re not particularly aggressive or frightening.
The cone snail is probably the most dangerous animal in Hawaii, and well, it’s a snail so unlikely to leap out of the water and launch an attack.
Even the intimidating Hawaiian monk seals are pretty laid back as long as you don’t get between a mother and her pup.
The main thing you should fear in Hawaii is the sea itself which, with its rip currents and rogue waves, claims way more lives each year than any dangerous animal or venomous snake.
Nicky is a British adventurer and animal lover who spends her time exploring the natural world and writing about her experiences. Whether on horseback, underwater, running, hiking or just standing with a fishing rod in hand, she embraces everything her adopted home of South Africa has to offer.