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NOAA: Observe Dolphins from a Distance


Last month, officials with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said it fined three individuals for harassing a pod of spinner dolphins off Makua Beach on Oahu. Although the city was widely reported, NOAA officials felt the main takeaway slipped through the cracks.

You may have seen photos on social media or in ads of people swimming with Spinner Dolphins in Hawai?i. According to NOAA officials, that not only violates the Marine Mammal Protection Act, but that kind of interaction with wild dolphins can do some real harm.

Hawaiian Spinner Dolphins are nocturnal animals - mostly active at night. During the daytime, they come close to shore - to rest, socialize and raise their young. And when people purposely interact with the animals, either by pursuing or getting close, it can disrupt their daily patterns, making them lose important rest time.

Adam Kurtz is a Marine Wildlife Management Coordinator with NOAA Fisheries.

"Disrupting these important behaviors, even for a short period of time, can actually hurt their chances of survival. And it really doesn't matter if it's from a boat or from a swimmer. Any disturbance from that can disrupt these behaviors are essential for dolphin survival. Although dolphins are capable of swimming away from the source of the disturbance, they choose these specific areas of rest for a reason.

So human activity that forces upon the dolphins to move to a different location, so they can get some rest, can make them use up additional, precious energy that they need to get to their feeding grounds, and also make them more vulnerable to predators and put them in harms way."

NOAA officials want people to stay at least 50 yards away from the animals. If a dolphin does approach you, do not touch, follow or attempt to interact with the animal. Just stay still, and let the dolphin swim by.

Casey Harlow was an HPR reporter and occasionally filled in as local host of Morning Edition and All Things Considered.
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