Posted on: March 19, 2015

Dolphin SMART Program Extends to Boat Tour Operators on Maui

Dolphin SMART LogoFor Immediate Release

Maui - Pacific Whale Foundation is proud to announce its inclusion as part of the national Dolphin SMART program, becoming the sixth participant in Hawai‘i and the second on Maui. This partnership program was developed by NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and National Marine Fisheries Service, the Dolphin Ecology Project and the Whale and Dolphin Conservation.

This voluntary recognition and education program for dolphin viewing tour operators allows participating Maui dolphin watch cruises to follow a set of responsible wildlife viewing guidelines to help educate passengers about the importance of responsible wildlife viewing. The program was originally launched as a way to address the continued harassment of Atlantic bottlenose dolphins in the Florida Keys, and has since expanded to include eco-tour operators in Maui, Alabama and Southwest Florida.

Dolphin SMART flag received by PWF boat crewThe goal is to minimize the potential for wild dolphin harassment that may be caused by viewing activities.

To achieve recognition, program participants undergo a rigorous evaluation process that includes an assessment of the operator’s online and print advertisements, a comprehensive staff training workshop, and a ride-along evaluation. Operators subsequently undergo an annual re-evaluation to ensure active compliance with the program criteria.

In Hawai‘i, spinner dolphins are particularly susceptible to harassment and human interactions.

“Spinner dolphins spend the day resting in protected bays and nearshore areas,” says Lauren Blickley, Conservation Manager at Pacific Whale Foundation. “Resting gives spinners the chance to ‘recharge’ after a night of hunting and feeding. Disruption of the resting behavior can impact the overall fitness of the spinner dolphins and disrupt their ability to forage.”

Blickley notes that a number of the resting areas used by spinner dolphins are well-known and accessible by both boat and the shoreline.

“For many people, seeing a dolphin is the chance of lifetime. However it is important to remember that dolphins are wild animals that deserve respect and need their space.”

While dolphins are protected from harassment by the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act, Blickley believes that tour operators play an extremely important role in promoting responsible wildlife viewing. 

“This is the basic premise of Dolphin SMART – creating a voluntary program that allows the industry to hold one another accountable and set high standards for wildlife watching,” she says.

NOAA and program partners recommend not approaching dolphins closer than 50 yards. Under the program, motorized vessels are instructed to immediately put engines in neutral when dolphins approach closer than 50 yards. Feeding, touch, and swimming with wild dolphins are also prohibited.

By choosing participating tour operators, the public helps to promote responsible wildlife watching. Learn more about available dolphin watch cruises on Maui.

Media Contact

Lauren CampbellLauren Blickley, Conservation Manager
Pacific Whale Foundation
300 Ma'alaea Road, Suite 211
Wailuku, HI 96793