Swimming With Spinner Dolphins in Hawaii Has Just Been Banned

Here's why.

It's about to get harder to swim with playful spinner dolphins in Hawaii.

U.S. federal regulators on Tuesday banned the popular tourist activity in an effort to protect the nocturnal animals. The new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) rule prohibits swimming within 50 yards of a spinner dolphin.

"Like all animals, Hawaiian spinner dolphins need rest," the administration said. The rule, which goes into effect on Oct. 28, means boats, canoes, and stand-up paddleboarders within two nautical miles of Hawaii's shores will also have to keep their distance from the creatures.

Spinner dolphins — famous for spinning through the air much to the delight of anyone who catches them in action — spend the night hunting, but they linger near the shore during the day, a habit that has made swimming with them a popular tourist pastime.

"A lack of consistent, undisturbed resting periods can reduce the amount of energy they have for hunting and caring for their young. Chronic exposure to human activities in their daytime essential habitat may place resident populations of spinner dolphins at risk," NOAA said.

Pod of wild Spinner Dolphins off the Big Island in Hawaii
James R.D. Scott/Getty Images

According to the NOAA, decades of pressure to perform for tourists have taken a toll on the animals.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said anyone who cares for the animals should avoid tours to frolic alongside them. "Most people have good intentions when they go on excursions or visit parks that allow you to swim with dolphins. But if they knew the truth behind the deceptive dolphin smile, they'd be horrified to know what they were actually supporting," the organization noted.

The NOAA is also considering prohibiting entry to parts of Maui and the Big Island where the dolphins tend to spend their days.

Meena Thiruvengadam is a Travel + Leisure contributor who has visited 50 countries on six continents and 47 U.S. states. She loves historic plaques, wandering new streets, and walking on beaches. Find her on Facebook and Instagram.

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