Hawaii authorities accuse swimmers of ‘harassing’ dolphins

Hawaii authorities accuse swimmers of ‘harassing’ dolphins
Enforcement officers came upon the swimmers in Honaunau Bay during a routine patrol (Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via AP)

Thirty-three people have been referred by Hawaii authorities to US law enforcement after the group allegedly harassed a pod of wild dolphins in waters off the Big Island.

It is against federal law to swim within 45 metres of spinner dolphins in Hawaii’s nearshore waters.

The prohibition came into effect in 2021 amid concerns that so many tourists were swimming with dolphins that the nocturnal animals were not getting the rest they needed during the day to be able to forage for food at night.

Aerial footage showed snorkelers following the spinner dolphins in Honanau Bay (Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources via AP)

The rule applies to areas within two nautical miles (3.7km) of the Hawaiian Islands and in designated waters surrounded by the islands of Lanai, Maui and Kahoolawe.

The state department of land and natural resources said in a news release that its enforcement officers came upon the 33 swimmers in Honaunau Bay on Sunday during a routine patrol.

Aerial footage shot by drone showed snorkelers following the dolphins as they swam away.

The department said its video and photos showed swimmers “who appear to be aggressively pursuing, corralling and harassing the pod”.

Enforcement officers contacted the group while they were in the water, and told them about the violation. Uniformed officers met the swimmers on land where state and federal officials launched a joint investigation.

Hawaii’s spinner dolphins eat fish and small crustaceans that surface from the ocean’s depths at night. When the sun rises, they head for shallow bays to hide from tiger sharks and other predators.

To the untrained eye, the dolphins appear to be awake during the day because they are swimming.

But because they sleep by resting half of their brains and keeping the other half awake to surface and breathe, they may be sleeping even when they are manoeuvring through the water.

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