NOAA fishing via AP
HONOLULU – U.S. regulators on Tuesday banned swimming with Hawaii’s long-beaked dolphins to protect nocturnal animals from people looking to encounter playful species up close.
Swimming with dolphins is a popular tourist activity in Hawaii. Several companies offer tours that take swimmers to areas frequented by dolphins in order to give them the opportunity to get in the water with the animals.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration rule under the Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits swimming with or approaching within 50 meters of a spinner dolphin that is within 2 nautical miles of the shore of the main Hawaiian Islands. The rule applies to boats, canoes, stand-up paddles, drones or other objects.
Audrey McAvoy / AP
NOAA is also proposing a regulation that would ban certain areas between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. in parts of Big Island and Maui that are considered critical diurnal habitat for long-beaked dolphins.
Long-billed dolphins hunt in offshore waters at night. During the day, they use areas near shore that provide optimal environmental conditions for socializing, feeding their young, hiding from predators, and resting for nighttime hunting.
Hawaii’s long-beaked dolphins get their name from their habit of jumping through the air and circling around. Some scientists say that such behavior is not always playful and may instead be an attempt to alert others to danger.