A Federal Agency Wants to Ban Swimming with Hawaii's Dolphins

Spinner dolphins swim near Hawaii in 2012. Spinner dolphins swim near Hawaii in 2012. Andy Collins/NOAA file photo

Dolphins aren’t in the hospitality business, but you wouldn’t guess that from the hours they have to keep.

Swimming with spinner dolphins off the coasts of Hawaii has become a popular tourist attraction. The populations of spinner dolphins there, however, feed offshore at night and return to the shallower waters around the islands to rest during the day.

That's a problem because tours operate during the day.

So the federal agency tasked with protecting the country’s oceans and marine life wants to ban swimming with dolphins “to prevent disturbance and harassment from dolphin-directed human activities.”

The National Marine Fisheries Service on Tuesday (Aug. 23) proposed prohibiting swimming or approaching a Hawaiian spinner dolphin within 50 yards.

“Dolphin-directed activities have grown dramatically in recent years, and the easily accessible Hawaiian spinner dolphins face heavy and increasing pressures from people seeking a dolphin experience,” the agency said. “Chronic disturbance to resting activities can negatively affect the health and fitness of dolphins.”

Tourism centered around wildlife has been under fire before. But the warning and proposed ban is a reminder that the risks of nature-driven tourism aren’t limited to animals in captivity.

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