Group of 33 swimmers under investigation for "aggressively pursuing" and "harassing" dolphins in Hawaii
Almost three dozen people are under investigation after they were found "actively" and "aggressively" pursuing a pod of dolphins — some of which appear to be juveniles.
The state's Department of Land and Natural Resources discovered the group's actions on Sunday morning while officers from the Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement were conducting a routine patrol in the South Kona District, the department announced on Tuesday. The swimmers were committing the actions in Hōnaunau Bay and were photographed doing so with a drone.
Officials found 33 swimmers "aggressively pursuing, corralling and harassing the pod," they said, adding that when officers saw what was happening, they contacted them from shore to alert them their actions were a violation. Once they got back to land, officials from both the Department of Land and Natural Resources and NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement opened an investigation.
Most of those involved in the harassment appear to be young adults, according to photos provided by state officials.
It is illegal in the U.S. to feed or harass marine mammals in the wild, according to the Marine Mammal Act, as doing so could image the animals' natural behaviors, could cause contamination to their bodies and could result in the animals becoming aggressive.
According to NOAA, violating this act could result in civil penalties of up to $11,000, up to a year in prison and fines.
NOAA's Office of Law Enforcement will review and have final disposition over the case, the state said.
The group's actions took place just a couple of weeks after another man in Hawaii who calls himself "Dolphin Dave" was accused of harassing humpback whales and dolphins on the Big Island. That man, whose real name is David Jiménez, had filmed himself snorkeling close to a humpback in Kealakekua Bay State Historical Park and reaching out to almost touch the animal's fin.
He was later cited for violating Hawaii Administrative Rules that protect endangered whale species and prevent wildlife harassment in state parks.
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