Federal regulators have proposed a ban on swimming with Hawaii’s spinner dolphins in the interest of wildlife safety. The attraction might be a boon to local tourism, but experts say it’s actually a huge stressor on the curious cetaceans. The ban would stretch two nautical miles from shore, where 98 percent of spinner dolphins rest during the day.
The National Marine Fisheries Service says spinner dolphins – known for their spinning leaps through the air – are facing risks of reduced fitness when tourists engage with them during their slumbering hours. The nocturnal species feeds during the night on crustaceans and small fish who come out after dusk, leaving the daylight hours for sleep. Spinner dolphins sleep with half of their brains still awake, swimming through shallow bays to avoid predators.
Because of the species’ predictability in their patterns, tourists always know where to find them. Even though they appear awake, interfering with their rhythms causes them a great deal of stress. Dolphins are very protective of their pods and will remain vigilant when humans are around. Ann Garrett, assistant regional administrator of the Pacific Islands’ protected resources division of the National Marine Fisheries Service, told Christian Science Monitor, “All of these things can contribute to a reduction of fitness over time – this kind of chronic level of stress. That’s what we’re concerned about.”
The proposal will be revisited in public meetings next month and the agency hopes to finalize a plan by next year. Right now, the proposed ban would cover two nautical miles away from the region’s coast, covering 98 percent of existing spinner dolphin resting sites in Hawaii. If you think swimming with captive dolphins could be a wise alternative, Whale and Dolphin Conservation disagrees. They warn of cruel capturing techniques, low dolphin survival rates, diseases, exposure to pollution, and disrupted social interactions as plenty reasons not to visit such a site. It all boils down to one simple lesson: wildlife belongs in the wild.