A group of 33 swimmers have been accused of harassing a pod of wild dolphins in Hōnaunau Bay, Hawaii, officials said.
The cluster of nearly three dozen people, many clad in bathing suits and snorkelling gear, were captured on drone footage “actively pursuing” the spinner dolphins on Sunday morning, according to a press release from the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement.
The swimmers, who have not been named publicly, are accused of “aggressively pursuing, corralling, and harassing the pod.”
In Hawaii, it’s against federal law to swim within 45 metres of spinner dolphins.
The group was alerted of the violation while in the water. When they returned to the beach, the swimmers were met by uniformed officers.
State and federal authorities are actively investigating the incident.
It became illegal to approach swimmer dolphins in Hawaii’s nearshore waters in 2021. The legislation came into effect after locals and wildlife activists voiced concern that nocturnal animals could not rest during the day because of the influx of tourists swimming with dolphins. Without the necessary sleep during the day, nocturnal animals cannot successfully hunt and forage at night, putting the species at risk.
Spinner dolphins earned their name for their ability to twirl several times while in mid-air. They can leap nearly three metres above the water’s surface. During the day, spinner dolphins linger in shallow bays to avoid predators in deeper ocean waters.
Dolphins are nocturnal creatures. To the untrained eye, dolphins may appear to be awake during the day because they’re swimming. However, because they sleep by resting half of their brains and keeping the other half awake to surface and breathe, they may be sleeping even when they’re maneuvering through the water.
— With files from The Associated Press