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?