Hawaiian tourists will no longer be able to swim with wild dolphins

Photo: NOAA

For tourists visiting Hawaii, a swim with wild Hawaiin spinner dolphins (or “naia” in the Hawaiian language) has traditionally been a popular attraction. However, growing awareness of how human interaction can harm wild dolphins has encouraged regulators to enact protections for the charismatic marine mammals. As Bloomberg reported, “National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials are nearing completion of regulations proposed almost three years ago that would create a 50-yard (46-meter) barrier around the mammals. The rules would outlaw the presence of people within the protected area around the dolphins by swimming or using boats to intercept the dolphins.”

AP explained in their reporting that the final regulations would:

  • Include exceptions such as dolphins approaching swimmers or boats and instances when the 50-yard (46-meter) limit does not allow safe navigation or there is a safety risk for people or boats.
  • Could be published by the end of this year and would go into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register.

Ann Garrett who is the assistant regional administrator for the National Marine Fisheries Service explained that the spinner dolphins are “very social creatures and they may approach vessels themselves” but the new rules would not leave room for people to engage or pursue them. 

Why This Matters: The rise of social media has encouraged people to post the most idealized version of their lives on the internet, often showcasing desireable foreign destinations or photos with exotic wildlife (like tigers in Thailand). Unfortunately, it’s helped distort the lines of what’s appropriate conduct for when we humans find ourselves in nature with wild animals. Unless you’re a scientist or a trained photographer it’s usually best to respect wildlife and leave wild animals alone. Taking selfies with bison in Yellowstone or trying to play with wild dolphins isn’t safe for you and it’s not safe for the animal either–it disrupts their natural behavior and can cause them distress.

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