The main questions addressed with the study

  • How are the spinner dolphins using each resting bay?

    • How much time do they spend in each bay?

    • Are they spending most of their time in a bay within the core resting area?

  • How are people using each resting bay?

    • Is the main human use by swimmers/snorkelers, kayakers, and/or motorboats?

    • Are human use patterns affected by the absence/presence of spinner dolphins?

    • Are humans in the core resting area when the dolphins are not in the bay?

  • When approaching, how close are people coming to the dolphins in the resting areas?

  • Does the time of day have an impact on the human use patterns?

  • Are the dolphins affected by human attempts to interacting with them, and if so how?

    • Do dolphins behave differently when people are present, compared to absent?

    • Does the distance between humans and dolphins affect dolphin behavior?


The information collected by the community volunteers shows that: a) the spinner dolphin resting areas in both Kealakekua and Honaunau Bays are only used by people when dolphins are present, and the people are there to target the dolphins, and; b) people approaching and trying to interact with the dolphins, prevent the dolphins from descending into a resting pattern. Instead the dolphins became much more active when people were within 100m of them, thus loosing valuable resting time.


Long-term data on occupancy rates suggest that Honokohau Bay is the only traditional spinner dolphin resting bay where the occupancy rate increased after swim-with tours began on the Kona coast. Observations suggest that this may be because the boat traffic in and out of the harbor discourages dolphin-oriented activities, especially by swimmers and kayakers.


It is not known how lack of rest during the day impacts the dolphins’ ability to feed, avoid predators and protect their young at night, but it is likely to impact all these activities negatively. To allow the dolphins to get undisturbed rest, human exclusion zones around the core resting areas have been suggested, and have been embraced by all but one of the resident stakeholder groups using Kealakekua Bay, the swim-with-dolphin tour operators. The data from this monitoring effort also suggest that the current viewing distance set by NOAA Fisheries in Hawaii be extended from 50 to 100 yards.