Snorkeling With Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins Made Illegal

You are no longer allowed to go snorkeling with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins. As of October 28, 2021, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) made it illegal to snorkel within 50 yards of a Hawaiian Spinner Dolphin, in the waters up to two nautical miles out from the shores of the Hawaiian Islands.

Snorkeling with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins mother and nursing young

Why No Snorkeling With Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins?

NOAA has been studying the effects of human viewing pressure on the health and well-being of the dolphins for decades now. The Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are nocturnal and hunt offshore at night. "During the day, they use areas close to shore that have optimal environmental conditions to socialize, nurture their young, shelter from predators, and rest in preparation for nightly hunting.", according to NOAA's announcement. If they are disturbed during this resting period, they may show distress and avoidance behaviors. These disruptions to their rest reduce the amount of energy they have for hunting and caring for their young. If they have to leave their safe resting area to avoid human interactions, they risk a greater chance of predation.

NOAA also reminds us that "Harassment of marine mammals, including spinner dolphins, is already prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. But close interactions between humans and spinner dolphins continue to occur despite the prohibitions, guidelines, outreach, and stewardship efforts that were already in place."

The new rule also prohibits boats or vessels of any kind from approaching within 50 yards of a dolphin, including positioning the boat in the path of the dolphins, so you cannot see them close up from a Stand Up Paddleboard either.

In addition to this new law, there is a proposed one that will close certain high use areas from human activities for certain hours of the day. It would prohibit entering restricted areas between 6 a.m. and 3 p.m. daily in parts of Kealakekua, Honaunau (Two Steps), Ho‘okena (Kauhako), and Makako Bays on Big Island Hawaii, and La Perouse Bay on Maui. They have a comment window open on this proposed law until December 27, 2021. We will keep this page up to date if and when the proposed rule becomes final.

We Support More Protection for the Dolphins

Group of Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins resting

This is a game changer for a number of shore snorkeling spots in Hawaii and for the myriad boat tour companies offering dolphin swims. Snorkeling with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins has been super common on Oahu and the Big Island (and a little bit in Maui) both from shore and by tours. We have updated all locations on this website and in our eBook guides to reflect this new law.

We support this new law, as it is simply an extension of the Marine Mammal Protection Act that was being ignored. Snorkeling with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins has only gotten more and more popular in recent years increasing the negative effects the human interactions are causing.

When we went snorkeling with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins in Kealakekua Bay on the Big Island and Waimea Bay on Oahu many years ago, we were careful not to chase or get close to them. We would simply float on the surface and watch and listen to them. But we did see people approaching too close and attempting to touch or otherwise interact with them.

Many of the dolphin swim tour companies claim to offer eco-friendly, sustainable interactions while snorkeling with Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins. We appreciate that they have been working toward this goal. But we feel that the sheer volume of people snorkeling from shore added into the volume taking these tours, creates a massive number of interactions with the dolphins on a daily basis that is not healthy for the dolphins.

Learn More

You can read NOAA's article about the announcement here, and the full text of the rule here.

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