WDC and program partners have continued expansion of the Dolphin SMART conservation program in Hawaii to the island of Maui. Dolphin SMART is a voluntary outreach and stewardship program that awards annual recognition to tour operators who responsibly view wild dolphins and educate their patrons on dolphin conservation.
Trilogy Excursions is the most recent operator to earn Dolphin SMART recognition in Hawaii, and as the fifth Dolphin SMART business in the state, marks the Program’s expansion to a third island there. Trilogy Excursions joins Hawaii Nautical and their subsidiary Port Waikiki Cruises, Ocean Joy Cruises, and Dolphin Star on Oahu, and Holoholo Charters on Kauai. With the addition of Trilogy Excursions, there are currently seventeen participating operators in Florida, Alabama, and Hawaii.
Dolphin SMART originated in Key West, Florida, and was launched by WDC, NOAA Fisheries Service and Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, and the Dolphin Ecology Project in 2007. The Program expanded to Alabama in 2008 before launching in Hawaii in 2011.
Viewing dolphins from a responsible distance is a cornerstone of the Dolphin SMART program. Close viewing of wild dolphins may disrupt important natural behaviors such as resting, feeding, and nursing and result in negative impacts to the health of dolphin groups and their young.
The “SMART” acronym is a reminder of the basic principles of dolphin viewing etiquette:
• Stay at least 50 yards from dolphins,
• Move away slowly if the dolphins show signs of disturbance,
• Always put your vessel engine in neutral when dolphins are near,
• Refrain from feeding, touching, or swimming with wild dolphins,
• Teach others to be Dolphin SMART.
In recent years, there has been an increase in human dolphin interactions in the main Hawaiian Islands. These activities primarily target Hawaiian spinner dolphins (Stenella longirostris longirostris), which are routinely found close to shore in shallow coves and bays where they congregate during the day to rest, care for their young and avoid predators before traveling to deeper water at night to hunt for food. Commercial operators that offer “swim with wild dolphin” tours and individuals that swim or paddle from shore interact with dolphins during times when the animals are at rest. Hawaiian spinner dolphins are a subspecies found only in the Hawaiian Islands and are genetically distinct from other spinner populations, such as those in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.
WDC is concerned that these human activities displace spinner dolphins from their resting areas and may have population and individual-level effects, and supports a variety of measures to protect spinner dolphins throughout the Hawaiian Islands. Scientific studies have documented human disturbance of Hawaiian spinner dolphins during their resting periods along the west coast of the Big Island of Hawaii, most notably in and around Kealakekua Bay. Newly-published research supports our concerns regarding disturbance and potential displacement of localized spinner dolphin populations within Hawaii through increasing human interactions.
WDC encourages visitors to Hawaii to book with a Dolphin SMART operator. Vessels of participating operators carry a Dolphin SMART flag and decal with current calendar year. A list of Dolphin SMART operators is available online at www.dolphinsmart.org.