Federal officials want to prohibit swimming with dolphins off the coast of Hawaii, a move that some fear could disrupt the state’s tourism industry.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is proposing to require swimmers, snorkelers, vessels and others to keep a 50-yard distance between them and Hawaiian spinner dolphins. The agency said the rule is to prevent disturbance and harassment of the animals while they rest during the day after feeding offshore throughout the night.
Because Hawaiian spinner dolphins rest in the state’s bays and along its coastlines, they are vulnerable to disturbance and harassment, the agency said in a news release.
“Hawaiian spinner dolphins face heavy and increasing pressures from people seeking a dolphin experience,” the agency said. “Chronic disturbance to resting activities can negatively affect the health and fitness of dolphins.”
Ann Garrett, assistant regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s protected resources division for the Pacific islands, told the Associated Press that increased human activity cause dolphins to be more vigilant and burn calories at a higher rate.
“All of these things can contribute to a reduction of fitness over time — this kind of chronic level of stress,” Garrett told the TV station. “That’s what we’re concerned about.”
Unlike other types of dolphins, spinner dolphins — as their name suggests — leap and spin, though scientists aren’t sure why, according to the National Marine Sanctuaries.
They typically rest from sunrise until afternoon. During that time, mothers interact with their offspring.
You can tell spinner dolphins are resting when they’re slowly swimming back and forth, usually for about four to five hours, either along the coast or in deeper water. They don’t sleep like humans do when they rest. Instead, half of their brain is alert, while the other half is resting, according to the agency.
At night, they feed in groups, preying on small fish, shrimp and squid.
Richard Holland, chief executive of Dolphins and You, told the AP that there has to be a middle ground between federal regulators and business owners like him. Holland’s company organizes boat tours and takes about 80 customers and tourists to waters off Oahu’s Waianae Coast every day to see dolphins.
“If you’re doing work that helps people — that enlightens them, inspires them, makes them feel good — that’s a good thing. There’s no need to take that away,” Holland said, according to AP.
Holland also told a local Fox affiliate that he’s not in favor of overregulation.
“Would you be able to still have and offer the same type of tour as you do now if these regulations move forward?” he told Fox affiliate KHON-TV.
Holland added that his customers don’t chase or disturb the dolphins in any way.
“We allow the dolphins to come to us,” he told the TV station.
The proposed regulation would be implemented within two nautical miles from the shore of the Main Hawaiian Islands, the agency said.
It does have a few exceptions, such as instances in which people inadvertently end up within 50 yards of a spinner dolphin, or the animals approach them. In such cases, people would be required to try to move away immediately.
The federal agency will hold several meetings in September at different locations to seek comments and answer questions from the public. Comments also can be submitted online.
The regulation will go into effect September of next year.
This post has been updated.