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Hawaii’s recreational boaters asked to help protect dolphins

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Hawaii’s recreational boaters and other ocean users are being asked by the state’s Department of Land and Natural Resources and NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service to avoid potential harassment of spinner dolphins.

To do so, the DLNR and NOAA Fisheries have developed “Dolphin SMART” guidelines, which they encourage all ocean users to follow:

· Stay at least 50 yards from dolphins

· Move away cautiously if dolphins show signs of disturbance

· Always put your engine in neutral when dolphins are near

· Refrain from feeding, touching, or swimming with wild dolphins

· Teach others to be Dolphin SMART

The agencies note that spinner dolphins are named for their unique behavior of leaping out of the water and spinning in the air. These social animals travel in groups of 10 to 100 or more and are believed to live over 20 years.

They are protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), which prohibits the “take” of marine mammals. “Take” means to harass, hunt, capture, or kill, or attempt to harass, hunt, capture, or kill any marine mammal, the agencies add.

“It is tempting to approach and interact with these animals; however, research has shown that these interactions can interfere with their natural behavior and could have population-wide effects,” said William J. Aila, Jr., DLNR chairperson.

NOAA Fisheries Regional Administrator Michael Tosatto added: “Close interactions with the dolphins are not only potentially harmful to them, but can lead to harassment, which is illegal. By following the responsible viewing guidelines, we can limit the impacts our activities may have on the animals.”

Boaters and others are asked to report any violations of the MMPA to NOAA Fisheries’ Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964.

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