In recent years, it has become popular to swim with the endemic Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins out in the wild. However, this isn’t going to be possible in the near future, as NOAA bans swimming with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins.
Unlike most wildlife in Hawaii, Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins aren’t on the endangered species list. However, that doesn’t mean the species doesn’t need protection. This is especially true since a robust tourism industry has grown up around populations in the main Hawaiian islands. Tour operators take guests out to spinner dolphin resting grounds to see the animals up close and personal. This practice, however, is causing major concerns among wildlife experts and animal rights activists.
NOAA Bans Swimming with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins
Why is approaching Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins such a significant concern? Well, tours to see them operate throughout the day. Unfortunately, these dolphins are nocturnal hunters. That means tours to see them disturb them during their rest periods, which is when they’re usually the closest to shore. However, disrupting their rest can put the animals at risk due to increased stress and making them less effective at hunting.
That’s why, as of October 28, 2021, a new regulation is going into effect to allow the dolphins to get the rest they need. Specifically, the new rule authorized under the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits coming within 50 years of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins when they’re within 2 miles to the nearest shoreline or when they’re in designated waters bounded by Maui, Lanai, and Kaho’olawe.
Researchers estimate that, as far back as 2013, upwards of 750,000 or more people participated in spinner dolphin tours on Oahu and the Big Island alone. That’s a significant amount of disruption.
While this new ban is a bummer for visitors and tour operators, I think it’s the right move. Sure, Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are not endangered. But I don’t think animals should need to be at risk for extinction to receive protection. Let’s do what we can to protect what we have now so that we don’t get into a situation in which more drastic measure are needed. That said, if you have existing tour reservations beyond October 28, you should contact your tour operator as soon as possible. And if you can’t secure a refund, contact your credit card issuer immediately.
If you really want to interact with dolphins, there are other options. For example, Dolphin Quest does have operations on Oahu and the Big Island. Sea Life Park Hawaii – also on Oahu – has dolphin encounter programs too. I know these types of operations are controversial, but they’re better than disturbing wild dolphins, in my opinion.