Swimming with wild spinner dolphins in the waters of Kona, Hawaii is popular with tourists but the increased interest is having an effect on the nocturnal animals. These dolphins rest after foraging for food all night and disturbing their resting behaviours can affect their long term health of the population.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now preparing to propose new rules to either ban swimming with the dolphins or prohibit people from shallow bays when the animals are resting. It is vital that tour operators are aware of what to watch for when the dolphins are settling into their rest state. Some Kona operators follow guidelines which include avoiding four dolphin resting bays between 10am and 2pm but only three of the 12 Kona coast tour operators currently follow them.
Julian Tyne at Australia’s Murdoch University, said spinner dolphins off the Big Island were exposed to human interaction about 80 percent of the time over the three years he studied them from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. There is a voluntary program that discourages swimming with the animals but the current guidelines have done little to deter dolphin swim tours. The Marine Mammal Protection Act prohibits harassing dolphins but actually swimming with them falls into a grey zone under the law.