New ban on swimming with spinner dolphins impacts Hawaii operators

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T1101SPINNERDOLPHINS_C_HR [Credit: Emily Dickey/Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau]
A new rule prohibits swimming with or approaching within 50 yards of a spinner dolphin that is within two nautical miles of the shore of the populated Hawaiian Islands. Photo Credit: Emily Dickey/Island of Hawaii Visitors Bureau

In an effort to protect Hawaii's spinner dolphins from human harassment, U.S. regulators have banned swimming with the marine mammals close to shore.

On Sept. 28, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) issued a new rule under the Marine Mammal Protection Act, prohibiting swimming with or approaching within 50 yards of a spinner dolphin that is within two nautical miles of the shore of the populated Hawaiian Islands. The rule applies to boats, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, drones and all other human-created objects.

Spinner dolphins are nocturnal, hunting in offshore waters at night. During daylight hours they congregate near the shoreline, where there is some protection from predators and it is safer to nurture their young and rest.

Additionally, NOAA is proposing a new regulation that would prohibit entering certain areas of the Big Island and Maui that are considered essential daytime habitats for spinner dolphins between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m.

Numerous companies in the Aloha State have offered boat tours that take people to areas off the coast of the islands frequented by dolphins with the objective of giving them the opportunity to swim in the water near the animals. Those companies will be permitted to continue the boat tours as long as they comply with the new regulations.

Hawaii's spinner dolphins get their name from their habit of jumping out of the water and rotating in the air before crashing back into the ocean. Some scientists believe the behavior is not necessarily playfulness, and may be a signal to alert other dolphins to danger.

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