Why You’ll Hear Us Say “No Swimming With Dolphins” — and Mean It
It’s the law: no person is allowed to intentionally get within 50 feet of a dolphin. This law means that we are not allowed to feed or swim with the dolphins. Doing so interrupts their natural behavior. This includes their hunting, sleeping, breeding and nursing and can even drive dolphins to leave their usual territory in favor of quieter waters. So why are there so many companies in Kailua-Kona, HI that promise an opportunity to swim with dolphins? The answer is simple: our state simply does not have enough money to enforce the federal law.
Dolphins in the Public Eye
In recent years, documentary films like “Blackfish” and “The Cove” have brought the rights of cetaceans (whales and dolphins) to the forefront of people’s minds. Increasingly, keeping dolphins in captivity in places like entertainment parks and aquariums is seen as inhumane, but the allure of being up close to a dolphin remains compelling. The issue of the human treatment of dolphins, both in captivity and in the wild, is a complex one. Many people who have the opportunity to swim with dolphins are awe-struck simply by being near creatures so magnificent, and it has long been argued that this very experience inspires a deeper respect for the rights of the species.
Are Dolphins People?
But what rights does this species have? There is a passionate minority in the science community who believe that all dolphins and some species of whales should be classified “non-human persons,” essentially giving them all the rights any human being enjoys. The area of the brain that processes emotion is substantially larger in them than the same area in our own, which is as close as anyone can come to quantifying the emotional capacity of these noble creatures. In reality, dolphins may well experience a deeper and richer emotional life than the one we enjoy. When viewed in this light, it isn’t such a huge leap to say that dolphins deserve the same basic rights extended to members of our own species.
During the day, dolphins are active, but sleeping. Dolphins turn off one hemisphere of their brains at a time to rest because their breathing is volitional, requiring a conscious effort. Although it may seem to onlookers as though the dolphins are wide awake, any boats that approach pods of spinner dolphins here in our waters may actually be disrupting a sleep cycle vital to their performing optimally as hunters throughout the night.
Respecting the rich and complex lives of dolphins does not have to be a burden. The only real way to know that we are not causing any harm is to allow the dolphins the right to decide whether or not they wish to become a part of our day. When they approach us during our tours, we are always happy to have their company. The difference is that we wait for the dolphins to take an interest in us, so we can be absolutely sure that they are choosing to be a part of our day. Dolphins are naturally curious and incredibly social creatures, so if we are lucky enough to catch them in the right mood they may well swim over to say hello.
Spinner dolphins are so prevalent in our waters that we are able to offer a guarantee to see dolphins on all our Deluxe Morning Snorkel & Dolphin Adventures, as well as our Whale Watch Adventures, all without disobeying the law or disrespecting these wild dolphins’ rights.
Our Commitment to Respecting Nature
Respect for the eco-system of Hawai`i is ancient and sacred, and we take it seriously. We show our respect for the living reef by not dropping anchor off our coastline, which could damage its complex structures. We utilize environmentally friendly cups, plates, and utensils. And we act toward dolphins and whales as if the law has already granted them the designation of non-human persons. We respect their rights, and still have the pleasure of their company on the very special snorkel trips during which they decide to come and play with us. We take a great deal of pride in knowing for sure that we have done all we can to preserve their natural life cycles.