A US judge has fined a tour operator US$2,500 for illegally harassing Hawaiian spinner dolphins.
Natural resources officers with the State of Hawaii investigated dolphin tour operator Casey Phillips Cho for harassing Hawaiian spinner dolphins, which is illegal under the federal Marine Mammal Protection Act. Cho, the officers found, drove his boat in circles around a pod of spinner dolphins off the coast of Hawaii Island. He also engaged in “leapfrogging”, in which he purposefully and repeatedly intercepted a pod of dolphins and dropped passengers off in their path.
Judge Coughlin found that Cho’s encircling of the dolphins was an act of annoyance and his leapfrogging was an act of pursuit, under the definition of harassment in the MMPA. She therefore ordered Cho and Adventure X Boat Tours to pay the fines for these violations.
In efforts to clarify and reduce human activities that harass and disturb Hawaiian spinner dolphins, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) published a proposed rule in 2016 that prohibits swimming-with and approaching a Hawaiian spinner dolphin within 50 yards. A final rule is expected to go into effect within the next year.
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