The ruling is authorised under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and was finalised on Tuesday. It will take effect on 28 October.
The rule states that people can’t swim with, approach, or remain within 50 yards of a Hawaiian spinner dolphin that’s less than two nautical miles from the shorelines of the Hawaiian islands, as well as some other designated areas “bounded by the islands of Lāna‘i, Maui, and Kahoʻolawe,” NOAA said.
The rule also applies to vessels and objects, such as boats, canoes drones, and paddleboards.
Hawaiian spinner dolphins are nocturnal and eat at night, but swimming with them is a common tourist activity in the state.
The new NOAA rule is intended to protect the dolphins and their habitat as well as allowing them to rest during the day without being bothered by tourists.
“Like all animals, Hawaiian spinner dolphins need rest. Spinner dolphins are nocturnal feeders that perform critical resting behaviours during the day while in safe, nearshore areas,” the administration said in a press release. “But for decades, spinner dolphins in Hawaii have experienced intense viewing pressure from commercial and recreational wildlife viewers seeking close encounters with the charismatic marine mammals.”
“A new regulation will now require the public to respect spinner dolphins’ space so they can shelter undisturbed in their resting habitat close to shore,” they added.
The administration also said that the rule also bans approaching the animals by “interception” or “placing a vessel, person, or other object in the path of a spinner dolphin so that the dolphin approaches within 50 yards of the vessel, person, or object”.
Exceptions to the rule include those who come into contact with a dolphin inadvertently or are approached by one. But the exception only applies if “they make no effort to engage or pursue the animal and take immediate steps to move away from it2.
“Vessel operations necessary to avoid imminent and serious threats,” are also exempted.
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