HAWAII– NOAA Fisheries is proposing a ban that could bring an end to the popular tourist attraction of swimming with Hawaiian spinner dolphins. Officials say the current interaction with humans is depriving the nocturnal animals of the rest they need.
“During the day, they’re resting in near-shore waters, so it makes them very vulnerable to dolphin-directed activities,” said Ann Garrett, assistant regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
“They may abandon their habitat and have increasing health problems. We can’t function as well as we could with a good night’s sleep, same with dolphins. Over time, their health may be impacted. They may not nurture young as well. They may abandon their young or habitat, and they may suffer long-term population impacts,” Garrett said.
The proposed rules would prohibit approaching a Hawaiian spinner dolphin within 50 yards by any means including swimming, snorkeling or boating, within 2 nautical miles from shore. The designated waters include areas between the islands of Maui, Lanai and Kahoolawe where the dolphins are found throughout the day.
Richard Holland, president of Dolphins and You, a Hawaiian tour company, said he is not in favor of the proposed regulations.
Holland said his company drops off customers near dolphins and moves their vessel 50 yards away.
“Our people stay in a neutral way. We don’t chase them or hoard them or corral them in any way. We allow the dolphins to come to us,” Holland said to CNN affiliate KHON.
Understanding that some interaction with spinner dolphins may be unavoidable, NOAA Fisheries identified several situations that would not fall under the proposed ban.
Several public meetings will be held in September, across the Hawaiian islands, to discuss the issue.
If passed, new guidelines would begin in 2017.