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Enhancing Protections for Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins


Proposed rule to prevent disturbance and harassment from dolphin-directed human activities and Draft Environmental Impact Statement.
Marine Mammal Protection Act
Action Status
Proposed Rule
Affected Species


In August 2016, the Pacific Islands Regional Office proposed a regulation to enhance protections for spinner dolphins in the main Hawaiian islands. The proposed rule would prohibit swimming with and approaching a Hawaiian spinner dolphin within 50 yards by any means (vessel, person, or other means) and would be implemented within two nautical miles from shore of the main Hawaiian Islands and in designated waters between Maui, Lāna‘i, and Kaho‘olawe where spinner dolphins are commonly found throughout the day.

Resident populations of Hawaiian spinner dolphins feed offshore throughout the night and return to Hawai‘i's near-shore waters to rest and recuperate during the day. During their daytime resting periods, these spinner dolphins rest, nurture their young, and socialize, behaviors which support individual and group health. Because Hawaiian spinner dolphins spend their days in the nearshore waters of Hawai‘i's sheltered bays and along its coastlines, they are one of the most easily encountered cetaceans in the waters of the main Hawaiian Islands and are vulnerable to disturbance and harassment.

The wild dolphin viewing industry in Hawaii has grown dramatically in recent years, and the easily accessible and predictable Hawaiian spinner dolphins face heavy and increasing pressures from wildlife viewing tours, self-guided tourists and residents, and participants in spiritual retreats, all of whom seek opportunities to closely view and interact with these animals throughout the day. A growing body of scientific evidence shows that there are changes to dolphins behavioral patterns when closely approached by swimmers and vessels, including increased swimming speeds and increased avoidance and aerial behaviors. In other small cetacean populations, chronic disturbance to natural behavioral patterns has been linked to biologically significant impacts such as habitat abandonment and reduced female reproductive success.The proposed rule is based on the preferred alternative (Alternative 3A) in the Draft Environmental Impact Statement. The following alternatives were considered:

  • Alternative 1: No Action
  • Alternative 2: Swim-With Regulation
  • Alternative 3: Swim-With and Approach Regulations
    • 3(A): Swim-With and 50-Yard Approach Regulations (Preferred Alternative)
    • 3(B): Swim-With and 100-Yard Approach Regulations
  • Alternative 4: Voluntary Time-Area Closures in 5 Selected Essential Daytime Habitats and Swim-With and Approach Regulations
  • Alternative 5: Mandatory Time-Area Closures in 5 Selected Essential Daytime Habitats and Swim-With and Approach Regulations

The rule has not yet been finalized.

Can I Still Submit Comments?

The public comment period is closed. To view comments, go to the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

Public Meetings: NOAA Fisheries invited the public to learn more about the proposed rule and to provide comments in person at six public hearings in September of 2016. These hearings were held in Kealakekua and Kailua-Kona (Big Island of Hawai‘i), Līhu‘e (island of Kaua‘i), Kihei (island of Maui), and Honolulu and Wai‘anae (island of O‘ahu).

Last updated by Pacific Islands Regional Office on 09/20/2021