Thursday, January 26, 2006

Are dolphin watching tours following the rules or not?

An environmental watchdog has had a close eye on a thriving industry on the leeward coast of Oahu

Dolphin tours are extremely popular, but are tour operators following the rules, or are the rules too vague to follow?

Carroll Cox of
EnviroWatch has been monitoring dolphin tour operations for weeks.

He says businesses are consistently crossing the line and he wants to take his concerns to the federal government.

Spinner dolphins take center stage in the shallow waters off Oahu's leeward coast everyday for hundreds of people -- some are even offered the chance to swim with the marine mammals.
"It's a disturbance," says Cox.

Carroll Cox has videotaped dolphin tour operations for several months.

"We see tour boat operators swim with dolphin programs that have developed and evolved here that drive into pods of dolphins that are resting," says Cox. "They're leaving the boat ramps, and Koolina and Waianae with the specific intention of pursuing the dolphins."

Spinner dolphins are protected by federal law from any attempt to hunt, capture, kill or harass.
"The law is already written and in some instances it's vague, but when you're actually driving into a pod of dolphins, there needs to be some abatement of that behavior," says Cox.

He's particularly disturbed by this incident.

"When the dolphins move they then, in some instances, attach the people to a rope and then tow the people back into the pod of the dolphin," says Cox.

"If I stop the engines to pick up one passenger, and we start drifting away from the rest of the passengers, that becomes an unsafe situation. So what we do is go ahead and throw a line out and we start collecting all our passengers," says Victor Lozano,
Dolphin Excursions Hawaii.
"That is clearly a disturbance," says Cox.

Victor Lozano of Dolphins Excursions says businesses do their best to comply with rules and guidelines.

"We try and get together and discuss if we are getting too aggressive amongst each other," says Lozano. "If I see something in that film, I will definitely call the rest of the owners and we have to meet."

Cox plans on filing a formal complaint with the federal government.

"To ask them to look into this and intervene, and there is a need to dedicate more enforcement, manpower or resources than do that. If there was a need to prosecute, do that," says Cox.
The state is asking the federal government for rule changes for the industry, including adopting a no-swim policy and making the 50-yard approach guideline a regulation.

Quick "Facts about Dolphins"