New ban on swimming with spinner dolphins impacts Hawaii operators

U.S. regulators banned the swimming of marine mammals near shore in an effort to protect Hawaii’s spinner dolphins.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a new rule on Sept. 28 under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. It prohibits swimming with or approaching spinner dolphins within 50 yards. This includes those within two nautical miles of the coast of the Hawaiian Islands. This rule applies to all human-made objects, including boats, canoes and stand-up paddleboards.

Spinner dolphins hunt in offshore waters at night and are nocturnal. They congregate close to the shoreline during daylight hours, where they are protected from predators and can rest and nurture their young.

NOAA proposes a new regulation to prohibit entry to certain areas on the Big Island or Maui that are essential daytime habitats of spinner dolphins. It will be in effect from 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Many companies from the Aloha State offer boat tours to places off the coast of islands where dolphins are frequented. The purpose of these tours is to allow them to swim near the animals. These companies will be allowed to continue their boat tours provided they adhere to the new regulations.

The name of Hawaii's spinner dolphins comes from their ability to jump out of the ocean and then turn in the air before falling back into the sea. Scientists believe that the behavior may not be playfulness and could signal danger to other dolphins.