New Federal Rules For Spiner Dolphin Interaction

The Federal Government via the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Department of Commerce have finally caught up to the “Swim With the Dolphins” industry. They passed strict regulations with these businesses in mind and pointedly wrote regulations to keep them from chasing dolphins during their resting period during the day. This final rule is effective October 28, 2021.

Excerpt from the NOAA site:

“The number of commercial operators engaged in wild dolphin viewing has grown dramatically in Hawai`i in recent years (O’Connor 2009, Impact Assessment 2018), putting new pressures on easily accessible groups of resting Hawaiian spinner dolphins. Wiener (2016) found that on the Wai`anae coast of O`ahu and the Kona coast of Hawai`i Island, 752,762 people are estimated to have participated in boat-based commercial dolphin tours annually in 2013, which is 632,762 more than a preliminary estimate conducted statewide in 2008 (O’Conner et al. 2009). Supporting this finding, Impact Assessment (2018) documented the number of spiritual retreats ( i.e., organized retreats centered on dolphin encounters, dolphin-assisted therapy, and dolphin-associated spiritual practices) on Hawai`i Island as increasing from 5 in 2007 to 47 in 2017. Similarly, commercial boat tours that facilitate close in-water dolphin interactions increased on Hawai`i Island from 6 to 47 over the same period. In addition, a number of residents and visitors venture on their own, independent of commercial operators, to view and interact with spinner dolphins.”

This final rule will officially be in effect on October 28, 2021, 30 days after it was published in the Federal Register.

There are eight exceptions to the prohibitions listed in this regulation, summarized below:

  1. People who inadvertently come within 50 yards of a Hawaiian spinner dolphin or are approached by a spinner dolphin, provided they make no effort to engage or pursue the animal and take immediate steps to move away from it
  2. Vessels that are underway and approached by a spinner dolphin, provided that they continue normal navigation and make no effort to engage or pursue the animal
  3. Vessels transiting to or from a port, harbor, or in a restricted channel to maintain safe navigation when a 50-yard distance will not allow the vessel to maintain safe navigation
  4. Vessel operations necessary to avoid imminent and serious threats
  5. Vessels that are anchored or aground and approached by a spinner dolphin, provided the vessel makes no effort to engage or pursue the animal
  6. People or vessels conducting activities authorized through a NOAA Fisheries permit or authorization
  7. Government vessels and personnel conducting official duties
  8. Commercial fishing vessels that incidentally “take” a spinner dolphin during normal fishing operations, provided that they operate legally according to the Marine Mammal Protection Act

Follow this link to the NOAA site for more specific information:

Follow this link for NOAA Guidelines on Viewing Marine Wildlife