Big Island Polls

What was poll’s No. 1 response to seeing swimmers, snorkelers too close to whales, dolphins?

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A group of 33 swimmers were caught illegally chasing a pod of dolphins in Hōnaunau Bay on the Big Island. (Department of Land and Natural Resources)

David Jiménez of Maui, who calls himself “Dolphin Dave,” pleaded not guilty last week to harassing an adolescent humpback whale and a pod of dolphins in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island.

Jiménez told state Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement he was not going to stop swimming with whales and dolphins because “it’s magical and others do much worse things,” according to a state Department of Land and Natural Resources press release.

But what do Big Island residents and visitors think? In our recent Big Island 30-second poll, we asked: What would you do if you see people swimming/snorkeling too close to whales or dolphins?

Of the 1,070 votes, 422 people (39%) said they would notify the Department of Land and Natural Resources. Another 207 people (19%) said they would notify police and 76 people (7%) said they would contact NOAA.


In total, 705 people (66%) would notify some official agency.

There were 172 people (16%) who said they would do nothing because they agree with Dolphin Dave that people should be allowed to swim or snorkel with the marine mammals. And there were another 111 people (10%) who said they would do nothing because it was none of their business.

In total, 283 people (26%) said they would do nothing.

And then there were the remaining 82 people (7%) who were not sure how close swimmers/snorkelers can be to dolphins/whales.


For the record: On Sept. 28, 2021, NOAA Fisheries finalized a rule authorized under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It prohibits swimming with, approaching or remaining within 50 yards of a Hawaiian spinner dolphin.

The rule applies to any vessel, person or object (including all boats, canoes, stand-up paddleboards, drones, or any other means) that is within 2 nautical miles from shore in the main Hawaiian Islands and in designated waters bounded by the islands of Lāna‘i, Maui, and Kahoʻolawe.

The rule also prohibits approach by “interception” or placing a vessel, person, or other object in the path of a spinner dolphin so that the dolphin approaches within 50 yards of the vessel, person or object.

Regarding humback whales, federal law states that no one may approach within 100 yards of them in Hawaiian waters. This means that all ocean users (boaters, swimmers, surfers, etc. ) must stay at least 100 yards from any humpback whale at all times.


NOAA and the Department of Land and Natural Resources issue a very limited number of special permits to researchers and rescue personnel to get closer than 100 yards. If, while on the water, you find a whale closer than 100 yards to you – if a whale approaches you, for instance – NOAA asks that you remain stationary and wait for the whale to move away. If you are in a motorized vessel, please put your engine in neutral (do not turn it off), and wait for the whale to move away. For more information about humpback whales, click here.

The Big Island Now poll results:

  • Notify the Department of Land and Natural Resources: 422 (39%)
  • Notify police: 207 (19%)
  • Do nothing; people should be allowed to swim/snorkel with them 172 (16%)
  • Do nothing; it is none of my business 111 (10%)
  • Not sure how close swimmers/snorkelers can be to dolphins/whales: 82 (7%)
  • Notify NOAA: 76 (7%)

Total: 1,070 votes

Tomorrow, our next poll will ask: What is the best advice to give students who are about to graduate from high school on the Big Island?

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