Swimming with dolphins is a popular tourist attraction in Hawaii — but not for long.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration on Tuesday banned people from swimming with, approaching or remaining within 50 yards of any Hawaiian spinner dolphin within 2 nautical miles of the shore, as well as in certain designated waters bounded by the islands of Lanai, Maui and Kahoolawe.
Authorized under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the new rule aims to reduce harassment of these nocturnal animals by swimmers and vessels that approach pods for passengers to view up close.
The number of commercial boat tour operators engaged in wild dolphin viewing has grown dramatically in Hawaii in recent years, putting new pressures on easily accessible groups of resting spinner dolphins, NOAA said in its justification for the new rule.
One researcher estimated that more than three-quarters of a million people participated in boat-based commercial dolphin tours on the Waianae coast of Oahu and the Kona coast of the Big Island in 2013 — a five fold increase from the number of people estimated to have participated in such tours statewide in 2008.
A researcher who studied spinner dolphins along the Kona coast in 2015 found that the spinner dolphin population there is chronically exposed to human tourism activities during more than 82% of daylight hours, according to NOAA.
Since spinner dolphins spend the daylight hours nurturing their young and resting from nighttime foraging, persistent disturbance from boats and people who seek to interact with them can impact the animals’ behavior patterns and prevent them from getting adequate rest, according to NOAA.
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