Federal regulators are proposing to ban swimming with dolphins in Hawaii - a move that could bring an end to one of the Aloha State's most popular tourist attractions.
The National Marine Fisheries Service says Hawaii's spinner dolphins - the nocturnal species that humans usually frolic with - are being deprived of rest during the day and becoming stressed out.
The proposed rule could shut down or greatly disrupt the industry as it now operates because the ban would cover waters out to two nautical miles, which is where 98% of Hawaii's spinner dolphins rest after they have spent the night feeding.
Ann Garrett, assistant regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service's protected resources division for the Pacific Islands, said dolphins have been found to be burning calories at a higher rate because they are forced to be vigilant as people approach their pods.
"All of these things can contribute to a reduction of fitness over time - this kind of chronic level of stress. That's what we're concerned about," Garrett said.
The federal agency is also proposing to require swimmers and vessels to stay at least 50 yards away from the dolphins. If the animals approach swimmers, the humans must make no effort to engage them and immediately move away, Garrett said.
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Public meetings on the proposals are planned to be held next month and a final decision on the regulations is expected to be made next year.