East Hawaii News

Public Urged to Avoid Harassment of Spinner Dolphins

February 13, 2014, 3:57 PM HST
* Updated February 14, 10:03 AM
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Wildlife officials are advising the public to be “dolphin smart,” and to avoid potential harassment of spinner dolphins.

Swimmers, snorkelers and boaters are being asked to keep a distance of at least 150 feet from the animals in the wild.

According to a statement from the state Department of Land and Natural Resources and the National Marine Fisheries Service, Hawaiian spinner dolphins move near shore into bays and  coves during the day to rest, care for their young and avoid predators.

“During this time it is important not to disturb them, as these activities are critical to their survival,” the agencies said in a statement today

At night, the dolphins move offshore to feed.

Hawaiian spinner dolphins can frequently be seen in leeward waters of the Big Island, sometimes in large pods.

“It is tempting to approach and interact with these animals; however, research has shown that these interactions can interfere with their natural behavior and could have population-wide effects,” said DLNR Director William J. Aila Jr.

“Close interactions with the dolphins are not only potentially harmful to them, but can lead to harassment, which is illegal,” said NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Michael Tosatto. “By following the responsible viewing guidelines, we can limit the impacts our activities may have on the animals.”

Dolphins are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act which prohibits the “take” of marine mammals.

The agencies said “take” means to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal.

DLNR and NOAA Fisheries are encouraging all ocean users to follow Dolphin SMART guidelines, which are:

  • Stay at least 50 yards from dolphins
  • Move away cautiously if dolphins show signs of disturbance
  • Always put your engine in neutral when dolphins are near
  • Refrain from feeding, touching, or swimming with wild dolphins
  • Teach others to be Dolphin SMART

The Dolphin SMART program recognizes commercial tour operators that voluntarily adhere to responsible guidelines. For more information and a list of approved businesses, visit www.dolphinsmart.org.

Violations of the MMPA should be reported to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries’ Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

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