NOAA is proposing new rules that would fine individuals up to $100,000 and imprisonment for swimming with wild dolphins in Hawaii. They are asking for comment to Jolene.Lau@noaa.gov before Oct. 23 at 5:00pm. Here is my comment:
I write to comment on your proposed rules related to human-dolphin interaction. Thank you for caring for our oceans and desiring to protect them. However the proposed rules have more negative implications than positive.
If humans never feel connected to the oceans, they won’t feel inspired to take care of them. If any of us are to survive our pollution crisis, we must create a positive emotional connection to the ocean and its creatures. This connection is critical for the future wellbeing of humans and dolphins.
THE HAWAIIAN CONNECTION: Imagine that you’re a native Hawaiian raising a child on your island and the government tells you that you can no longer allow your children to swim with your dolphin family — that you must get out of the bay when the dolphins come even though you know them by name and they recognize you – even though you’ve played together safely all your life. It was once illegal to speak the Hawaiian language, engage in the Hula or Hawaiian customs and children were taken away from their families for school. This was all done to “protect them.” Will we now take their dolphin family too? Has anyone asked the Hawaiians what it feels like to have police invade their sacred bays in South Kona and order everyone out of the water as if they’re criminals? The loud speakers and sirens scare the dolphins much more than children’s laughter.
MASS HARRASMENT. I think it is wise to limit the number of boats that “chase” the dolphins since dolphins cannot escape them, but a moderate amount of respectful swimmers do not pose the same threat. It has not been my experience that playing the leaf game with dolphins or hanging out with them (not pursuing them) harms them. This interaction does not constitute “take” or “harassment” under the law, particularly since it is usually the dolphin that approaches the human enticing us to play.
DO NOT PUNISH EVERYONE FOR A FEW BAD APPLES. Some humans will misbehave regardless of the “rules,” so why punish everyone? Imagine if we passed a law that children couldn’t eat with their peers at lunch because food fights might occur. That would be absurd. Passing laws that inhibit positive interactions because of a few bad apples is overreaching and detrimental to all involved. Will we outlaw connecting to octopus next? They’re highly intelligent as well, but for some reason it’s not against the rules to kill and eat them. Given the lack of evidence of detrimental harm caused by human swimmers, I do not believe a judge would outlaw non-harassing behavior in dolphin pods.
EDUCATION IS KEY. I strongly recommend that everyone take a dolphin etiquette course before swimming with them! I am designing such a course here at the Kona Mermaid School. Such a course could be required by all of the tourists ahead of time to be completed in person or online. If you decide that permits should first be obtained to swim with dolphins, then please require completion of an accredited dolphin etiquette course.
DOLPHIN ADVOCATES. Those who have the privilege of swimming with dolphins are most likely to become their biggest allies, not just of the dolphin population, but of the Ocean in general. It’s much easier to feel inspired to clean up a beach or make non-plastic choices out of love for the dolphins than out of obligation. This is the purpose of using the mermaid persona – to help humans to fall in love with the ocean again and be inspired to care for it.
THE BIGGER PICTURE. Humans seek connection – it is why we are here. I believe that our connection with the dolphins offers one of the great keys to healing humanity – and therefore the planet – which is definitely in the best interest of dolphins. We’re all related.
My husband and I operate Mermaid Dreams Bed and Breakfast in Kealakekua. It is just above the Marine Wildlife Sanctuary in Kealakekua Bay, a sacred place of reverence. We respectfully swim with dolphins there on a daily basis. My income does not hinge on access to the dolphins, but most mermaids dream of communing with them, and this dream will never be possible if this rule is adopted.
Finally, some concern has arisen regarding NOAA’s receiving monies from certain dolphin companies (e.g. Dolphin Quest) and the conflict of interest that represents in the research results since such companies currently charge about $1500 per person for a deluxe captive dolphin encounter. Please clear that up for us.