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Dolphin Smart, Historical

Dolphin Smart - Swimming with Wild Dolphins

WIld Dolphin Foundation endorses the West Hawaii Voluntary Standards for Marine Tourism

This 2012 study in Australia (link below), shows the same lack of compliance to un-enforced rules, as does the NOAA Dolphin Smart program . Easy to 'sign on', and easy to proceed with business as normal.

Leia Howesa, Carol Scarpacia and Edward Christien M. Parsons, 2012, Ineffectiveness of a marine sanctuary zone to protect burrunan dolphins (Tursiops australis sp.nov.) from commercial tourism in Port
Phillip Bay, Australia


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Dolphin Smart NOAA

Dolphin Smart WDCS

WDCS Policy On Swimming With Dolphins


Island of Hawaii Forum: Kayaking and Swimming with Dolphins--What's the Issue?

"Dolphin Smart" in Hawaii

The Code which NOAA endorsed operators have agreed to, in exchange for promotion of their wild-dolphin-focused tours (the complete pdf checklist), in short:

  • Remain at least 50 yards <1/2 a football field> from dolphins.
  • Limit your time observing to 1/2 hour.
  • Spinner dolphins should not be encircled or trapped between boats or shore.
  • If approached by a spinner dolphin while boating, put the engine in neutral and allow the animal to pass. Boat movement should be from the rear of the animal.

Please be aware that we do not endorse the unenforced Dolphin Smart program, and feel it is basically a way for the captive industry (who heavily support the program) to make their dolphinarium programs more attractive, more 'up close and personal', than viewing dolphins in the wild. You'd be better off watching a dolphin from the shore with binoculars, then from a boat that was in total compliance with Dolphin Smart criteria. If the Dolphin Smart program was sustainable or 'smart' the participating boats WOULD be in compliance - vs. rampant violations.

One program we do endorse, is the West Hawaii Voluntary Standards for Marine Tourism (in particular the marine mammal section), a grassroots protocol designed especially for protection of Hawaii's marine life Note that Wild Side Specialty Tours is the only Oahu tour company to sign on, but is not yet listed on the CORAL site).

Please see the "Dolphin Smart" Facebook page for examples of the ongoing Dolphin Smart violations from participants in Hawaii, such as bowriding, swimming with dolphins, etc. Not ONE Hawaii "Dolphin Smart" participant has made any significant Dolphin Smart compliant changes to their daily routines, but all have continued to closely approach dolphins within 50 yards (the main rule) every trip.

We filed four formal complaints, although the complaint procedure is much more difficult and time consuming then becoming a Dolphin Smart 'participant' (get 7 out of 10 questions correct on an 'open book' test). We also submitted numerous photo and video files of violations taken over a four month period.

We began documenting and submitting violations in Apt il 2012, as we worried that once it was high summer season and the focus was solely on dolphins (vs. sharing the limelight w/ humpback whales), things would get worse. Hopefully, with enforcement, the "Dolphin Smart" tours would actually be practicing Dolphin Smart guidelines and the race to encourage and see dolphins jump and bowride, and get back for the next boatload would be less ugly.

However, the last contact we received from Laura McCue, the Dolphin Smart Hawaii coordinator to which our submissions were made, was August 2012, saying she would resume the 'dialogue' with us in September 2012 (after the high summer season), as she was leaving the island until then. She has yet to get back to us.

We did get a form letter from Ms. McCue, informing us that Dolphin Smart training and 'recognition' for 2013 was coming up. Not a word on the 2012 repeat violations of every current participant (would THAT be recognized?). This leads us to believe the success of Dolphin Smart is based solely on the amount of those signing up to participate, and not based on any changes of behavior towards the dolphin or compliance with Dolphin Smart guidelines in Hawaii, or elsewhere.

In Dolphin Smart's first year, we have witnessed the same lack of even simple enforcement as shown in other Dolphin Smart areas, and as reported on our "historical" Dolphin Smart page - where not even the participant website/advertising guidelines were compliant. Guidelines easily sought out and enforced with minimal effort from the Dolphin Smart's coordinators own desk chair.

For instance, on Hoku Naia's Dolphin Experience page, the side banner hasHoku Naia Dolphin Experience three violations. two depicting passengers near dolphins. Dolphin Smart violation = "Do not depict people in close proximity to wild marine mammals".

At the Dolphin Smart training meeting, attendees were told boats should not be included in dolphin pictures, as that alone would depict close proximity - examples of this were shown by Powerpoint. Therefore, both the 2nd and 3rd are in violation. Additionally in both the second and third picture, the dolphins are within 50 yards of the boat (3rd picture, passengers are bending down and forward to view them), and in violation of the 50 yard rule.

Interestingly, at the time of the training, attendees were told it was 'OK' to post close up's of dolphins, even so the pictures were obviously taken within 50 yards, such as the fourth picture (note the young calf that the boat is basically on top of - for that picture to be taken). This really made no sense.

The fifth picture down, same page, depicts dolphins underwater. Dolphin Smart violation = "Do not depict dolphins photographed or videoed under the water or otherwise imply photographer was in the water."

On Hoku Naia's Dolphin Gallery page the ninth picture is entitled "Playing in the wake" and shows dolphins leaping out of a wake. Dolphin Smart violation = "Do not depict dolphins engaging in wake or bow riding behaviors; particularly do not use photos of dolphins leaping in a wake behind a vessel."

All of these website 'violations' (as per criteria and examples shown in training) were reported to Ms. McCue, yet still remain on Hoku Naia's (Dolphin Smart participating tour's) website.

Another easy way to check for compliance is on Hoku Naia's TripAdvisor reviews. "Outstanding trip" states that "...when we were snorkeling dolphins were swimming all around us". Another reviewer posts pictures taken onboard that show dolphins clearly within 50 yards of the Hoku Naia, as they cross the front of the boat (note guard rail).

On the "Dolphin Smart Hawaii" FaceBook page (of which we sponsor, not NOAA) we have posted video of Hoku Naia's trained crew swimming within arm's reach of a dolphin pod and pursuing them in the water. Hoku Naia is the biggest, loudest dolphin tour boat on Oahu - therefore it is the easiest to document, and why they dominate the FB page, not that they are any more or less compliant.

To put our contribution dollars to the very best use, we do not publish printed materials. You will find much of our information posted on this website. We respond to all email, but unfortunately, as many hours are spent in the field, we do not have staff to regularly answer phone calls.