DEPARTMENT OF LAND AND NATURAL RESOURCES
PETER T. YOUNG, CHAIRPERSON
Phone: (808) 587-0401
Fax: (808) 587-0390
For Immediate Release:
DLNR Supports Spinner Dolphin Protection Rules
The state Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) believes Hawai‘i’s spinner dolphins, the revered nai‘a of traditional Hawaiian culture, deserve enhanced protection, and we are very supportive of the current efforts being led by our partners at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Fisheries Service, Pacific Islands Regional Office, Protected Resources Division.
As NOAA goes forth in developing an environmental impact statement (EIS) and proposed dolphin protection rules, we think it’s important to further clarify where DLNR stands on the practice of swimming with wild dolphins. We know that spinner dolphin survival depends in part on being able to rest undisturbed during the day in our inshore coastal waters. Scientific evidence and basic common sense tell us that dolphins are often disturbed when swimmers place themselves in close proximity to resting dolphins, and therefore we support any reasonable effort to prevent such disturbance.
It’s especially important for us to address the notion that there is no harm done if, instead of swimming directly into a pod, swimmers swim near a pod and let the dolphins “choose” whether or not to interact with the swimmers. While at first consideration, this “dolphin’s choice” approach might seem reasonable, in truth, it represents unwise wildlife management policy. Just because a wild animal “chooses” to do something, doesn’t mean that “choice” is best for the animal. For instance, bears often “choose” to raid dumpsters on the edges of their natural habitat, and we all know this is not good for the bears.
In the case of people swimming with resting marine mammals, dolphins, especially curious juveniles, may indeed “choose” to break away from the pod and “play” with nearby swimmers, but the disruption this causes to the dolphins is not in their best interest for a number of reasons. Social disruption, caloric energy loss and habituation to humans are all risks of close interactions with swimmers during dolphin resting periods. Wild animals, such as our spinner dolphins, need undisturbed resting habitat, free of potentially unhealthy “temptations” caused by swimmers, no matter how well intentioned the swimmers might be.
To facilitate public involvement in the federal rule making process, it’s worth pointing out some legal details to help clarify DLNR’s role in spinner dolphin protection. State agencies such as DLNR, currently have authority under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to regulate activities to protect marine mammals listed as endangered species, such as humpback whales and Hawaiian monk seals.
However, pursuant to the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the federal government (NOAA) has sole authority over protection regulations for species that are not ESA-listed, such as our spinner dolphins. In other words, the MMPA prevents state agencies from enforcing any state dolphin protection regulation and places all such authority with NOAA.
Nevertheless, state agencies can be authorized to assist in enforcing federal dolphin protection regulations and DLNR was recently re-authorized to do so. We therefore look forward to working with NOAA to determine how DLNR can most effectively support NOAA in promoting public compliance with the new dolphin protection measures that may result from NOAA's rule making process.
We are confident there are management solutions that will allow for enjoyable, educational, economically viable and culturally appropriate dolphin watching activities in Hawai‘i. We continue to support responsible shore-based and boat-based dolphin watching, especially during the early morning and late afternoon, when dolphins are not in their deep resting phase and more active, displaying the leaps and spins at which we all marvel. We encourage all concerned to participate in NOAA’s upcoming public meetings and join us in supporting NOAA’s spinner dolphin protection initiative.
Peter T. Young, Chairperson
Robert K. Masuda, Deputy Director
Dan Polhemus, Ph.D.
Jeffrey S. Walters, Ph.D.