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Want to Swim With Dolphins? Read This First

Animals

Swimming with dolphins in Hawaii might be a dream come true for some people, but federal officials are worried that it might not be such a positive experience for dolphins.

Hawaii’s population of spinner dolphins, whose regular presence near shore has become a big draw for people, are now at the center of concerns about how increasing interactions are impacting their health and well being.

Swimming with dolphins in Hawaii might be a dream come true for some people, but federal officials are worried that it might not be such a positive experience for dolphins. Photo credit: Thinkstock

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) explains that spinner dolphins are nocturnal, they hunt in deep waters at night and return to shallow bays during the day to rest, care for their young and avoid predators.

Even though they may appear to be active during the day, they’re actually sleeping … or trying to and federal officials are worried ongoing disturbances throughout the day are going to have a serous impact on them.

If we’re bothering them while they’re trying to rest, it could cause them to move into areas where they’re more vulnerable and make them use up vital energy they need to socialize, reproduce, travel and hunt at night.

“Disturbing their resting behaviors can actually affect their long term health and the health of the population,” Ann Garrett, assistant regional administrator of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s protected resources division for the Pacific Islands, told the AP.

Unfortunately, our interest in encounters has led to an increase in activities that are posing a threat to these dolphins. The AP reports there are about 200 dolphin-related businesses operating in Hawaii, on top of other recreational activities, while as many as 20 tour boats can sometimes show up at a time and be seen dropping tourists in the water to swim with them.

Garrett added that the National Marine Fisheries Service has gotten reports of “vessels chasing down pods at high speed and corralling the dolphins into an area.”

In response to concerns about how we may be unintentionally hurting spinner dolphins, NOAA is getting ready to propose rules that could change regulations to protect them, which may include a ban on swimming with them or closing areas where they’re resting. While there are voluntary guidelines in place, few are reportedly following them.

It’s not really about shutting down opportunities to see dolphins in the wild, but to make sure it’s done respectfully. For anyone looking to have such an experience, there are tour operators that have pledged to follow guidelines intended to encourage responsible viewing.

For info on dolphin-friendly tour operators in Hawaii, in addition to Florida and Alabama, check out Dolphin SMART.

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The last time San Francisco did not record a drop of rain in February was in 1864 as the Civil War raged.

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On Thursday, the U.S. Drought Monitor said nearly 60 percent of the state was abnormally dry, up from 46 percent just last week, according to The Mercury News in San Jose.

The dry winter has included areas that have seen devastating fires recently, including Sonoma, Napa, Lake and Mendocino counties. If the dry conditions continue, those areas will once again have dangerously high fire conditions, according to The Mercury News.

"Given what we've seen so far this year and the forecast for the next few weeks, I do think it's pretty likely we'll end up in some degree of drought by this summer," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported.

Another alarming sign of an impending drought is the decreased snowpack in the Sierra Nevada Mountain range. The National Weather Service posted to Twitter a side-by-side comparison of snowpack from February 2019 and from this year, illustrating the puny snowpack this year. The snow accumulated in the Sierra Nevadas provides water to roughly 30 percent of the state, according to NBC Los Angeles.

Right now, the snowpack is at 53 percent of its normal volume after two warm and dry months to start the year. It is a remarkable decline, considering that the snowpack started 2020 at 90 percent of its historical average, as The Guardian reported.

"Those numbers are going to continue to go down," said Swain. "I would guess that the 1 March number is going to be less than 50 percent."

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Climate Prediction Center forecast that the drier-than-average conditions may last through April.

NOAA said Northern California will continue deeper into drought through the end of April, citing that the "persistent high pressure over the North Pacific Ocean is expected to continue, diverting storm systems to the north and south and away from California and parts of the Southwest," as The Weather Channel reported.

As the climate crisis escalates and the world continues to heat up, California should expect to see water drawn out of its ecosystem, making the state warmer and drier. Increased heat will lead to further loss of snow, both as less falls and as more of it melts quickly, according to The Guardian.

"We aren't going to necessarily see less rain, it's just that that rain goes less far. That's a future where the flood risk extends, with bigger wetter storms in a warming world," said Swain, as The Guardian reported.

The Guardian noted that while California's reservoirs are currently near capacity, the more immediate impact of the warm, dry winter will be how it raises the fire danger as trees and grasslands dry out.

"The plants and the forests don't benefit from the water storage reservoirs," said Swain, as The Mercury News reported. "If conditions remain very dry heading into summer, the landscape and vegetation is definitely going to feel it this year. From a wildfire perspective, the dry years do tend to be the bad fire years, especially in Northern California."