Science After Dark: Capturing Squid in the Tides of Oahu - June 25, 2019 - Atlas Obscura Trips

Oahu, Hawai'i

Science After Dark: Capturing Squid in the Tides of Oahu

What gives the bobtail squid its glow? And what is it like to interact with this trickster up-close? Just beneath the waves off the Hawaiian coast, there are schools of tropical fish, flotillas of sea turtles, and squads of squid—all with fascinating lives and complex relationships often hidden from the human eye. We’re diving in to explore some of their secrets. 

Led by a renowned marine biologist, our squidding excursion will take us on a winding, amphibious tour of Oahu. Zigzagging through vast plant mazes, scenic mountain trails, and family-owned fish markets, we’ll get to learn about Oahu’s unique history and fragile island ecosystem.

This trip is best for people who are...

  • Eager to swim and snorkel alongside a variety of marine wildlife, including sea turtles, fish, and Hawaiian bobtail squid.
  • Ready to hike up to 6 miles a day, often on steep, mountainous terrain.
  • Excited to partake in citizen science by helping a squid biologist capture specimens to bring back to her lab for research.
  • Interested in learning about current conservation efforts to protect and preserve Hawaiian sea turtles and coral reef ecosystems.

The North Pacific Ocean off the coast of Oahu is home to a stunning abundance of underwater life, from the twirling spinner dolphin to the remarkably oblong needlefish. But the Hawaiian bobtail squid, a small, nocturnal cephalopod, outshines them all—literally. As night falls and it leaves the safety of its daytime hideaway in the sand, it enters the open sea to hunt with a glittering light emitting from its mantle, mimicking the moonlight shining down. If it passes over a ravenous barracuda or Hawaiian monk seal, the predator likely won’t have a clue—the light obscures the squid’s passing shadow, rendering it invisible to the hungry critters below.

More than just admiring sea life, we’ll be chatting with researchers and conservationists about initiatives to protect local species, and participating in citizen science to more deeply understand the bobtail squid and its habitat. Each day, we’ll plunge into the water and taking an up-close look at the island’s marine ecosystems, and some of their most intriguing characters.

This trip is limited to just 12 explorers.


  • After-dark squid spotting: Equipped with headlamps, wade into the sand flats off Oahu to see what comes out at night—namely, glowing squid!
  • Stunning stone ruins: Respectfully explore Hawaiʻi’s majestic, mysterious rock structures, including an ancient birthing site known as the “Hawaiian stonehenge” as well as the ruins of King Kamehameha III’s summer palace.
  • Conversations with researchers: Chat with experts who have their fingers on the pulse of ocean conservation, from the scientists saving baby sea turtles to the researchers studying the health of coral reefs.
  • Scenic Swims: From snorkeling with sea turtles to dipping beneath a crystal clear waterfall, channel your inner squid in the waters of Oahu.


Sarah McAnulty is an enthusiastic squid biologist, science communicator, and marine conservation advocate. She is the founder of Skype A Scientist and a Ph.D. candidate in the Department of Molecular and Cell Biology at the University of Connecticut. Sarah studies Hawaiian bobtail squid, and she’ll be showing you her favorite spots from her fieldwork in Oahu!

Photo by Abigail Lynn
Day 1
Aloha Honolulu!
  • After arriving at the airport, you’ll head to the Surfjack hotel and check into your mid-century room with a Hawaiian retro-modern kind of charm.
  • Get to know your host and fellow adventurers over sustainably sourced seafood with a lively welcome dinner at Mahina & Suns.
Ocean Treasures Library
Day 2
Moonlight Squidding
  • Enjoy a relaxing breakfast on your own in Waikiki before meeting up with the group. Once we’re all together, we’ll head out to explore the rocky coastline of Oahu’s East Shore and hike the scenic Makapuʻu Lighthouse trail.
  • After our big climb, we’ll unwind with a classic Hawaiian dish: poké, followed by malasadas at Oahu’s famous Leonard’s Bakery. We earned it; we walked up a big hill.
  • After lunch, you can head back to the hotel, or hit the beach for a sunsoaked nap. Wherever you choose to snooze, make sure you get some rest because tonight, we’re going squidding! Afterwards, enjoy dinner on your own at the hotel or one of Waikiki’s many renowned restaurants.
  • The squidding hour has arrived! Once the sun sets, we’ll put on some dive booties (or any shoes you don’t mind getting wet) and head out to Maunalua Bay, a sprawling sand flat on the south shore of Oahu. Grouped in teams of two and equipped with headlamps and flashlights (don’t worry—we’ll be providing those), we’ll hit the beach to start searching for squid. The cephalopod of interest is the Hawaiian bobtail squid, a nocturnal marine mollusk about the size of a lime, whose mantles, containing bioluminescent bacteria, make them glow in the moonlight. Once we spot squid, we’ll catch them using dip nets and place them in ziplock bags to bring back to our guide’s lab. Though the bobtail squid is the main attraction, we’ll likely spot lots of other sea creatures, including shrimp, crabs, tropical fish, and brightly colored eels.
Photo by Jeremy Bishop
Day 3
Snorkeling with Sea Turtles
  • After a leisurely breakfast, we’ll hit the Kamehameha Highway and stop by two destinations from the Atlas. We’ll first wander the ancient Kukaniloko Birthing Site, sometimes referred to as the “Hawaiian Stonehenge,” before getting lost in the World's Largest Plant Maze. With nearly two and a half miles of paths, and over 14,000 native plant species, we may be there for awhile.
  • Once we get our bearings, we’ll head over to Kawela Bay Beach Park to swim with sea turtles. First, we’ll grab lunch with a sea turtle conservationist and get the scoop on what’s being done to protect them. Then, we’ll get in the water to see them up close.
  • After we’re done observing the turtles, we’ll swing by Ted’s Bakery for a heaping slice of Haupia pie, a traditional Hawaiian dessert famed for its delightful coconut-milk-based filling.
  • We’ll then head up to Shark’s Cove for more snorkeling. Dotted with rocky ledges and underwater caves, it’s home to an abundance of stunning underwater life, and, contrary to its slightly foreboding name, amenable to swimmers of all levels.
  • After a full day spent under the sun, surrounded by island wildlife, we'll retreat to our home base where we can rinse the salt off, enjoy dinner on our own, and soak in those calm island breezes as we reflect on all the fantastic creatures we’ve observed.
Day 4
Fading Reefs and Ancient Ruins
  • We’ll start with day with a visit to another site in the Atlas, the Kaniakapupu Ruins. Built in the 19th century, the palace was once a summer retreat where Hawaiʻi’s King Kamehameha III could escape Western influence and discuss political matters with chiefs.
  • Next, we’ll head to the Hawaiʻi Institute of Marine Biology, where we’ll enjoy a private walking tour led by their stellar education team. Following our tour, we’ll sit down for lunch with biologist Shayle Matsuda, who researches the health of coral reef ecosystems in a changing climate. 
  • We’ll enjoy dinner on our own at one of Waikiki’s many delightful restaurants before meeting up at La Mariana, one of the oldest tiki bars in Honolulu. Opened in 1957, and still sporting kitschy shell-adorned lamps and wooden paneled walls, this retro bar evokes a Hawaiʻi of nearly six decades ago.
Photo by Ryan Pernofski
Day 5
Tamashiro Fish Market and Silky Beaches
  • We’re kicking off the morning bright and early with a big cup of Kona coffee to fuel our trip to the bustling Tamashiro Fish Market. As we make our way through the famous family-owned market, we’ll get the chance to chat with the fishermen and merchants who bring in the freshest catch around, and experience a live fish auction. We’ll snack on Tamashiro’s fresh, local poké—but save room, because we’ve got bigger fish to fry (read: another dish to try) for lunch.
  • For lunch, we’ll visit Ma'Ona Musubi to try the Hawaiian specialty, spam musubi, before heading to the Manoa Falls Trail, where both Jurassic Park and Hawaii 5-0 were filmed. Though we won’t spot any dinos, we’ll keep our eyes peeled for wildlife as we travel through a variety of ecosystems to get there. Once we arrive, we’ll take a dip beneath a glittering, pristine waterfall.
  • After our swim, we’ll stop for ice cream at Ba-Le Sandwich shop, a local haunt serving up decadent durian, lilikoi, and taro-flavored ice cream.  
  • After lunch, we’ll get to enjoy a long, leisurely afternoon of beaching. A secluded half-mile stretch of stunning coastline, Lanikai Beach boasts brilliantly blue water and sand as fine as sugar. If you’re itching to do some surfing or snorkeling, those are options as well. 
  • We’ll head back to the hotel, rinse off the sand and the salt, and prepare for our final farewell dinner at Ginza Bairin, a restaurant famous for its outstanding tonkatsu.
Day 6
Farewell and Departure
  • After five eye-opening days of exploring Hawaiʻi’s wildlife, both onshore and off, we’ll say farewell to the flora, fauna, and fellow adventurers we’ve encountered throughout the course of our trip. If we had eight sucker-speckled arms and a few tentacles, we’d be waving all of them at our new friends from the sea.
The Fine Print


  • Five nights of accommodation at the Surfjack Hotel in a standard double-occupancy room. Single travelers should be prepared to share a room with another traveler of the same gender, depending on the composition of the group. A limited number of private rooms are available for a single supplement of $630.
  • An expert guide in the field of biology, conservation, and science communication as well as local experts on each of our island excursions.
  • Two dinners, daily lunches, and snacks, as well as two cocktails of your choice at the La Mariana Tiki Bar.
  • All equipment rentals for squidding and snorkeling activities and a complimentary headlamp that you can keep for your future adventures.
  • Admission to all proposed activities and events.
  • A $100 donation per traveler to the Gates Coral Research Lab. 
  • Transportation within Oahu following arrival at the Surfjack Hotel.
  • A full briefing packet for each explorer, including island information, logistical and contact information, recommended reading list, and packing list.
  • A curious group of fellow Atlas Obscura explorers, excited to discover all that Oahu has to offer.


This itinerary is subject to change. We expect to do everything listed in the itinerary, though the order may be rearranged based on weather and other local conditions.


We recommend you have a medium fitness level to fully participate in this trip. Be prepared to walk up to 6 miles per day through thick, muddy island terrain, often ascending steep hills or small mountains. There will be swimming and snorkeling opportunities open to all ability levels.


We are aiding an active researcher in the collection of live specimens for her research. She will instruct all travelers in the correct collection methods for Hawaiian Bobtail Squid. All travelers are expected to show respect for wildlife and their habitats, as well as the fragile ocean ecosystem surrounding Oahu, at all times.


The Surfjack Hotel is located a 25-minute drive from Honolulu International Airport (HLN). We’ll be meeting for dinner at 6 p.m., so we recommend you arrive with enough time to settle into your accommodations, and relax a bit. Our trip concludes on Sunday, and hotel checkout is at 12 p.m., though we’re happy to help extend your stay if you would like to enjoy Oahu on your own.


A $500 deposit is required to hold your space. This deposit is nonrefundable after three days. The final payment of $2,780 will be due by May 12, 2019. All reservations will be final after this date and subject to our cancellation policy. By submitting your deposit, you agree to the trip’s Terms & Conditions. For those wishing to have a single room and/or extra nights at the Surfjack Hotel, the supplemental cost will be included with the final payment.


  • Flights to and from Honolulu International Airport (HLN) and transportation between HLN and the Surfjack Hotel.
  • All breakfasts.
  • Individual travel insurance (recommended).
  • Three dinners, and additional meals and drinks outside of Atlas Obscura offerings.
  • Optional carbon offset for miles flown.

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