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Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

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Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

I was doing some online research on dolphin protection and wrote the following, hoping to include it on an "Inside Page" for the Big Island.

TA has informed me that this isn't allowed, because I include quoted material from other sources and because it's too detailed for an Inside Page. (The quoted material is from a U.S. government Web site, so copyright is not an issue...works of the U.S. government are not subject to copyright.)

TA suggested it would be OK for me to put in a forum topic, so here it is.

Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

If you read the TripAdvisor forums, you may already have learned that "kayaking to see the dolphins" and "swimming with dolphins" are hot issues on the Big Island. Why? What’s the big deal?

The big deal is that seeking out and trying to interact with the dolphins disturbs their natural behaviors and interrupts much-needed rest periods. Spinner dolphins, the dolphins most commonly targeted by swimming with dolphin activities on the Big Island, seek out sheltered bays with sandy bottoms in order to rest. These rest periods are crucial to their well-being.

Sandy bays are not plentiful on the Big Island , so the dolphins don’t have a lot of other choices to move to, even when individuals and groups brought in by tour operators are routinely harassing them in their historically favored spots. Some of them do move on--thus there has been a decrease in the number choosing to rest in some formerly favorite areas--but this is because human activity is depriving them of choice locations.

The NOAA Fisheries Office of Protected Resources has a Web site for their “Protect Dolphin Campaign” at …noaa.gov/pr/education/protectdolphins.htm

The site also has links to other resources to learn more. The bottom line here is that, according to NOAA:

“It is against the law to feed or harass wild dolphins. For the dolphins' sake, and for your safety, please DON'T FEED, SWIM WITH, OR HARASS WILD DOLPHINS. [NOAA] encourage[s] you to observe them from a distance of at least 50 yards. . . The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) prohibits the "taking" of marine mammals. The maximum fine for violating the MMPA is $20,000 and one year in jail.”

Somebody might say, what’s the relevance? Nobody wants to TAKE a dolphin; the point is to be emotionally enriched and/or have fun by getting close and maybe swimming with one!

Well, the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) defines “take” as including “harass.” According to the NOAA glossary on the same Web site (click on the "take" link on the "Protect Dolphin" page):

“Take: Defined under the MMPA as ‘harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, kill or collect.’ “

“Harassment: Under the 1994 Amendments to the MMPA, harassment is statutorily defined as, any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance which—

* (Level A Harassment) has the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild; or,

* (Level B Harassment) has the potential to disturb a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild by causing disruption of behavioral patterns, including, but not limited to, migration, breathing, nursing, breeding, feeding, or sheltering but which does not have the potential to injure a marine mammal or marine mammal stock in the wild.“

A 1999 scientific paper linked on "Interactions Between the Public and Wild Dolphins in the United States," written by two NOAA National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) scientists and linked under "Publications" on that page, concluded that:

“. . .Thus, ‘harassment’ can be an act of pursuit that has the potential to disturb behavior (i.e., Level B harassment). NMFS is concerned that SWD activities in the wild risk causing harassment to the dolphins since, by their nature, they pursue interactions with wild dolphins that can disrupt the animals’ natural behavior. In order to avoid harassment of wild dolphins, NMFS recommends that people observe them from a safe and respectful distance from on board a vessel, avoid approaching dolphins closer than 50 yards (150 feet or 45 meters), and use binoculars or telephoto lenses to get a good view of the animals. If people conduct dolphin watching at a distance and do not closely approach or chase (pursue) the animals, the potential for harassment should be minimized. However, if people closely approach wild dolphins within 50 yards and try to interact with or entice the animals to approach, the potential for harassment – and possibly injury – is high."

". . . NMFS recognizes that there are situations where wild dolphins will approach people on their own accord, either out of curiosity or to ride the bow wave/surf the stern wake of a vessel underway. If wild dolphins approach a vessel, NMFS recommends that the vessel maintain its course and avoid abrupt changes in direction or speed to avoid running over or injuring the animals. If wild dolphins approach a vessel that is stationary, the vessel should remain still to allow the dolphins to pass. If wild dolphins approach swimmers or divers, NMFS recommends that the people avoid abrupt movements and try to move away. Under no circumstances should people try to feed, touch, pet, ride or chase wild dolphins."

Things to think about:

In evaluating potential water activities on the Big Island, whether they are free or for-fee by commercial operators, please take into account what the law is regarding disturbance of wild dolphin behaviors and that the National Marine Fisheries Service recommends that boats and people maintain a 50-yard distance from the dolphins.

When kayaking, consider your behavior--what kind of eco-adventure is it really when (as does happen) groups of kayakers, shouting in excitement as they try to get close, chase after a pod of dolphins in a bay?

Ask tour operators whose excursions you are considering what procedures they follow--take a look at what they advertise. If they say they follow NOAA/NMFS recommendations, do their pictures imply otherwise? Whose interests are they focusing on--what about the dolphins’? How do you feel about having an experience at the expense of another species?

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1. Re: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

I am sorry TA would not let your post to be included in an "Inside Page." It should be framed and permanently displayed at the top of EVERY Hawaii-related page here! A Big Mahalo for you taking the time to post your research. We need all the help we can get to protect our mamals here.

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2. Re: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

yes, this is wonderful, Honu_Ohana!

To stress the crucial point you make that people simply refuse to get -- it IS harassment to swim with dolphins, even if the dolphins swim into your zone, and to GO where dolphins are likely to find you is harassment.

Many people would define "harassment" as intentionally causing harm. But as you explain, "harassment" is the net result, the effect, of human actions, even benignly intended ones.

Stalkers who follow celebrities around think that the celebrities enjoy their intentions. Let's not behave like stalkers when it comes to these intelligent creatures who need safe and PEACEFUL havens in our bays!

Note: there is not enough manpower or funding for the harassment provisions to be enforced. So if you think an activity must be legal because no one is stopping it, think again. Not true here. It is up to us to enforce our own actions and to withhold our dollars from operators who rely on the fact that the authorities aren't able as yet to come down on them.

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3. Re: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

"even if the dolphins swim into your zone"

Well not exactly. If a dolphin approaches you it is not a violation of the MMPA.....just don't touch it or anything.

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4. Re: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

It's one way I can try to give back to the place that I spend most of the year waiting to see again! By the way,

"To report marine mammal violations, such as feeding wild dolphins or harassment, please contact the NOAA Fisheries Service Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964." http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/ole/

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5. Re: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

Honu_Ohana,

Thanks for the great info.

I find it quite sad that the sponsored links on this forum page are all for 'Swim with Dolphins'.

When we visit BI again this fall, our snorkeling activities will involve touching nothing but the water we swim in, and enjoying only the aquatic life that chooses to share the area that we select to visit.

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6. Re: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

EXCELLENT! Mahalo for sharing information that needs to be printed in every Hawaiian travel book!!!

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7. Re: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

I agree, excellent! I will post a link in the Lana'i forum to this, because the same thing happens on Hulopo'e Beach there. I have to admit that I am one of those in the past who swam by an area where dolphins sometimes are in hopes of seeing them, and by chance some swam by. I have since learned the importance of watching them from the shore with my binoculars and tell the same to everyone. Education and enforcement (the difficult part) are the keys to helping the dolphins. Thanks again for the great info.

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8. Re: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

I don't want to start fight sequence here but I have to agree with BrightonBill about the statement,

"To stress the crucial point you make that people simply refuse to get -- it IS harassment to swim with dolphins, even if the dolphins swim into your zone, and to GO where dolphins are likely to find you is harassment. "

Please, please please!!!!! KamaainaK don't take this wrong because I highly respect you and your input here and on the Maui boards. I think the laws and informing people is paramount in protecting animals like the dolphin and turtle. But the way that is worded you would basically have to close all Hawaiian waters to diving, snorkeling, fishing both shore and boat. Dolphins can show up pretty much anywhere humans will be especially since we are both seeking calm waters.

In dealing with a creature as intelligent as the dolphin, if they come into and area where you are snorkeling just follow the info of the OP and leave them alone and let them do what they want to do in there habitat. If they are curious about you let them be. Just don't be stupid. Curiosity is part of any creature of this world and is part of evolution. Dolphins have dealt with humans for thousands of years now. Albeit quite a few more now but if you think about it who had more impact on dolphins? The people now who are for the most part just swimming around them or the ancient Hawaiians who actually competed with them for food. Yes the Hawaiians where well know for keeping things in balance but they still took small fish that dolphins feed on. I don't think if someone is snorkeling in a bay and a pod comes in and sees people snorkeling that it's going to change their behavior. They are highly intelligent creatures and they have the advantage of open water and the ability to navigate it very quickly. If they don't like something they will leave. I have heard many stories of them coming in and checking out people. Now on the other hand if you have people trying to touch, feed, or disturb sleeping dolphins I have no problem with dragging them out of the water by their fins and hanging them from the scale at the nearest charter boat dock for all to see.

I guess it boils down to the fact if we act like the highly evolved creatures we are suppose to be I'm pretty sure they will act like the ones they have become and we can both share the water in harmony.

Another thing about habits of animals changing is why so many people are quick to blame humans for such things. So many can't seem to grasp the fact that animals are intelligent and can't say, "Hey, that old way is a drag, lets try this." Take the Canada Goose, you see more and more resident geese around and not as many migrating. They stay in relatively mild areas not too hot, not too cold. Many have said that humans have caused this. Why is it so hard to believe that the geese said to themselves, "Why fly thousands of miles back and forth every year when there is a place right here that doesn't have the extremes we fly away from twice a year and there is plenty of food year round to support us.". Heck, they say that the Nene is a descendant of the Canada goose. Probably geese that either migrated to the islands or just wayward birds that happened upon them and just said, "I'm not going back that way!" and stayed . They probably had no natural predators at the time and with the wide variety of climates and topography the islands offered they saw no reason to leave. The very same reasons so many people do the same thing.

OK, I'm off my soapbox now. I'm sure I will be slammed but I needed to say this.

And again, KamaainaK please do not take this as a personal attack. It is far from it. My wife and I plan on visiting the BI next May and I look forward to your knowledge and help on issues and questions we may have about the trip.

And lastly, anyone witnessing acts against dolphins, turtles or any creatures please use the info posted above to let someone know what is happening. Or if it's something that is obviously just an uninformed person doing something they shouldn't nicely let them know what they are doing wrong and what they should do instead. I have done this on Maui with fish feeders or people asking about fish feeding. Most are thankful of the info and now there is a better educated person out there that is less likely now to do something they they shouldn't. And if someone can't handle it maybe that is the time officials need to be brought in.

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9. Re: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

Aloha DreaminofMaui,

You make some good points, but note that it was stated if a wild dolphin moves into your area you are to not make any sudden movements, and try to leave the area. Swimming with the dolphins at that point is not recommended. Also, one does not have to close all beaches to avoid accidental meetings with dolphins. The dolphins have certain areas they hang out and those can be avoided. I know on Lana'i at Hulopo'e beach, if you hang out on the north side of the beach in the main snorkel areas, you will not run into the dolphins. But if you swim out to the south side, where there is no good snorkeling or other reason to be in, you may meet up with dolphins. There is still a lot that needs to be learned about topic, and I think we should err on the careful side with our interactions.

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10. Re: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

Yes I know drvalgemae. I stated above if a dolphin does appear to follow the info th OP outlined above. I realize there are areas where it is more likely to find dolphins but frankly they can appear anywhere.

In the perfect fantasy world treads like this and frankly the laws this thread is about would be unnecessary but as we all know you can only find that world in Hollywood. And thats several thousands miles from the islands. lol But in this imperfect world we live in we should be more proactive with informing and teaching people. Some very simple things could be done like having snorkel equipment renters give out info or even put it on their little fish charts. Post signs at beaches where dolphins tend to show up. Close areas that have been determined to be birthing areas. And put the limited resources that are available for control in the areas where encounters are likely to happen. It's amazing how you can get someone to fly to Washington and walk up and down the street in front of cameras saying we are killing dolphins. But can you get them to go to a beach where dolphins frequent and talk to people or set up a little table with info to inform people first hand what they should and should not do.

Something to think about.