Looking to swim with dolphins or manta rays in the wild? See them instead in a sustainable, eco-conscious way aboard the Ko Nau Lani catamaran. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) guidelines say: “Do not swim with wild spinner dolphins.”

     As for the Hawaiian Islands’ manta rays, NOAA has listed them on the Endangered Species Act’s Threatened Species list, because they are “inherently vulnerable to depletions, with low likelihood of recovery,” and intentionally swimming with them day or night disrupts their natural feeding patterns.

​     We also do not try to sell you fish food and do not condone feeding fish, as that is not good for the fish or for Hawaii’s reefs.

     Swimming with dolphins in Hawaii in the wild is not good for these marine mammals. There are clear guidelines and research about what’s best for marine wildlife. By participating in Hawaii Nautical’s eco-conscious activities, you are demonstrating your support for dolphin conservation.

Swimming with wild dolphins should be avoided

     Guidelines from NOAA strictly advise: “Do not swim with wild spinner dolphins.”  NOAA states: “When people swim with resting wild spinner dolphins, the dolphins may be drawn out of their resting state to investigate the swimmers. This may be a change in behavior which may constitute ‘harassment;’ under the Federal law that protects them and other marine mammals — the Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA). Any act of pursuit, torment, or annoyance that has the potential to disrupt a marine mammal’s behavior is ‘harassment’ under this Act and is, therefore, AGAINST THE LAW.”

     Where to swim with dolphins then?  If you are still wondering “Where can I swim with dolphins in Hawaii?”, there are trained-dolphin aquarium programs such as Sea Life Park or one of the Dolphin Quest sites that, at this time, are permitted to allow interaction with humans, though captivity and human interaction  are not universally condoned to be good for the dolphins; some ecological groups are calling for an end to these practices as well. So please do not swim with wild dolphins or manta rays. Swimming in the wild in Hawaii with dolphins or manta rays is not eco-friendly or sustainable for these species.


Dolphin SMART

     Hawaii Nautical is Hawaii’s first Dolphin SMART-recognized operator for proper viewing of dolphins, in accordance with federal guidelines that include “Do not swim with wild spinner dolphins.” Dolphin SMART is sponsored by the NOAA Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the Dolphin Ecology Project, and Whale and Dolphin Conservation. The program educates guests about dolphin conservation and advises to not seek activities that pursue close interactions with wild dolphins. Swimming with dolphins in Oahu is not recommended.

     We also do not try to sell you fish food or condone feeding fish, as that is not good for the fish or for Hawaii’s reefs.


​Call NOAA’s Office of Law Enforcement 24-hour hotline: (800) 853-1964.

  Here is more information from NOAA Fisheries’ Office of Protected Resources. All text is directly from its website at https://www.fisheries.noaa.gov/about/office-protected-resources:   

     It is illegal to feed or harass wild dolphins. We encourage you to observe them from a distance of at least 50 yards (150 feet) for the following reasons:

     Dolphins have a reputation for being friendly. However, they are really wild animals who should be treated with caution and respect. Interactions with people change the behavior of dolphins for the worse. They lose their natural wariness, which makes them easy targets for vandalism and shark attack.

     Dolphins are hunters, not beggars, but when people offer them food, dolphins, like most animals, take the easy way out. They learn to beg for a living, lose their fear of humans, and do dangerous things. For example, they may:

  • Swim too close to churning boat propellers and suffer injuries.
  • Associate people with food and die after becoming entangled with fishing hooks and lines.
  • Get sick from eating bait and human food like beer, pretzels, candy, and hot dogs.

     Dolphin scientists have proof of injuries

Research shows that feeding wild dolphins disrupts their social groups, which threatens their ability to survive in the wild. Young dolphins do not survive if their mothers compete with them for handouts and don’t teach them to forage.

     Dozens of bites have been reported, and people have been pulled underwater. For example, a woman who fed a pair of dolphins and then jumped in the water to swim with them was bitten. “I literally ripped my left leg out of its mouth,” she said during her week-long stay in the hospital.

     Dolphins are not water toys or pets. The “Flipper myth” of a friendly wild dolphin has given us the wrong idea. Flipper was actually a trained, captive dolphin who did not bite the hand that fed him. Truly wild dolphins will bite when they are angry, frustrated, or afraid. They are disturbed when people try to swim with them. Dolphins who have become career beggars can get pushy, aggressive, and threatening when they don’t get the handout they expect.


Let the Wild Ones Stay Wild

     Feeding or attempting to feed wild dolphins is prohibited under the Marine Mammal Protection Act and implementing regulations. Violations can be prosecuted either civilly or criminally and are punishable by fines of up to $100,000 and/or up to 1 year in jail.


Protect Dolphins Brochure [pdf] [1.4 MB]
Protect Big Island manta raysReport to Congress on Results of Feeding Wild Dolphins 1989 – 1994 [pdf] [4.5 MB]
Interactions Between the Public and Wild Dolphins in the U.S.: Biological Concerns and the Marine Mammal Protection Act. [pdf]
Dolphin Feeding and Harassment is Harmful and Illegal, Federal Agency Reminds Public & Boaters



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