KEAUHOU — Federal officials are in the final review stages of rules that would ban swimming with Hawaiian spinner dolphins, officials said.
National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration officials are nearing completion of regulations proposed almost three years ago that would create a 50-yard (46-meter) barrier around the mammals, West Hawaii Today reported Wednesday.
The practice of swimming with Hawaiian spinner dolphins — or "naia" in the Hawaiian language — has created a booming tourism industry around the state.
The rules would outlaw the presence of people within the protected area around the dolphins by swimming or using boats to intercept the dolphins, said Ann Garrett, a National Marine Fisheries Service assistant regional administrator.
The prohibition would extend 2 nautical miles (4 kilometers) from island coastlines, including waters bounded by Maui, Lanai and Kahoolawe.
The regulations would include exceptions such as dolphins approaching swimmers or boats and instances when the 50-yard (46-meter) limit does not allow safe navigation or there is a safety risk for people or boats.
"We do recognize that they are very social creatures and they may approach vessels themselves. Purposefully, the exception doesn't provide for anyone to engage or pursue those animals," Garrett said.
The final regulations could be published by the end of this year, Garrett told attendees of the Marine Mammal Commission's three-day annual meeting that began Tuesday.
A final rule usually goes into effect 30 days after publication in the Federal Register, she said.