Save the Spinner Dolphins of Hawaii
NMFS, Protected Resources Division, Pacific Islands Regional Office
Wild Dolphin Foundation
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We recognize that spinner dolphins are economically important to Hawaii as they attract large numbers of people who spend money in the state. However, if spinner dolphins suffer reduced fitness or abandon habitat in Hawaii, both the ecosystem and the dolphin tourism industry will be affected. If spinner dolphin rest areas become unsuitable due to heavy vessel/swimmer traffic, spinner dolphins may stop occupying these areas.
NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) is currently in the public opinion phase of considering whether to propose regulations to protect wild spinner dolphins in the main Hawaiian Islands. (Advance notice of proposed rulemaking)
NMFS offers several possible options for consideration and comment:
Turn the current guidelines (with possible revisions) into law, provide for enforcement and penalties for violations.
Establish minimum approach rule to accommodate a reasonable level of dolphin viewing opportunities while minimizing potential human disturbance, with consideration as to whether the current 50 yards guideline is appropriate. Exceptions for situations in which marine mammals approach vessels or humans, or other situations in which approach is not reasonably avoidable would be considered.
Restrict individual activities of concern--. Such activities could include actions engaged in by individuals, e.g., swimming with, touching (either directly or with an object), or otherwise acting on or with a Hawaiian spinner dolphin in the wild. It could also include operating a vessel or providing other platforms from which such interactions are conducted or supported.
Restrict vessel activities of concern--These activities of concern could include actions engaged in by vessels, e.g., the use of vessels to herd dolphins, surround dolphins, or otherwise prevent a reasonable means of escape, to ``leapfrog'' dolphins by positioning in their predictable paths, separate calves from attending adults, approach at or above specified speeds, or to ``run through'' a group of dolphins in order to elicit bow-wake riding.
Establish time-area closures in resting bays -- They could: restrict all human entry to the area; restrict only specified types of activities; restrict human access to an entire area or a particular zone within an area; or a closure could be any combination of the above parameters.
The website containing the current guidelines is quite good, excepting for the "Viewing Code of Conduct" which is problematic.
"50 yard approach" limit. Approach laws may work for terrestrial animals and some aloof whales, but dolphins regularly approach boats and anything virtually anything introduced into their environment. If the vessel was far enough away so as to not garner the dolphin's attention, the wildlife would likely no longer be watchable.
Restricting swimming with dolphins can impact many users (such as net and spearfishermen, recreational swimmers or waders, snorkelers and divers) as the dolphins spend daylight hours in very nearshore areas. Impacted activities may include the Ironman triathlon (dolphins often frequent the bay where the swimming portion takes place)."Otherwise acting on or with a Hawaiian spinner dolphin in the wild" should be clarified or deleted. We support that touching should not be allowed. "It could also include operating a vessel or providing other platforms from which such interactions are conducted or supported" may be a better option as this would seem to only restrict commercial operations. However, it is our belief that it is not swimming with dolphins that is the problem, but the quantity of such interactions including amount of vessels, swimmers from the vessels, trips per day, and methods used.
We are in favor of restricting vessel activities to include the use of vessels to herd dolphins, surround dolphins, to 'leapfrog'' dolphins by positioning in their predictable paths, separate calves from attending adults, approach or depart above specified speeds (with exceptions - e.g. fishing boats leaving a harbor when dolphins are near the entrance), or to ``run through'' a group of dolphins in order to elicit bow-wake riding or aerial behaviors.
Time-area closures are a good idea in resting bays during peak resting times (we suggest 11am to 1pm), limited to commercial tour vessels in recognition of Native Hawaiian cultural and public access rights. However, dolphins may be present in areas also used for non-dolphin focused diving and snorkeling tours, thus would be an economic hardship.
We strongly urge that all rulemaking be based upon sound science and respect indigenous knowledge. The referenced studies or the quotes attributed to them in the Advanced Ruling may be flawed or limited in scope. We also recommend responsible companies be given permits (limited in number) to interact with dolphins in an educated, supervised manner. If guidelines are violated, permits are revoked, thus posing a strong economic "do-good" incentive on permittees.
We also ask that NMFS consider enforceability of any proposed rules. In essence, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) should already shield the Hawaiian spinner dolphins from harassment, making any new rulings unnecessary. If the MMPA cannot be enforced, how will the new rulings?