Better educational signage could reduce disturbance of resting dolphins
Spinner dolphins on Hawai‘i Island’s west coast (Stenella longirostris longirostris) rest by day in protected bays that are increasingly popular for recreation. Because more frequent interactions of people with these dolphins is likely to reduce rest for dolphins and to explain recent decline in dolphin abundance, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) proposed stricter rules regarding interactions with spinner dolphins near the main Hawaiian Islands and plans to increase enforcement. Simultaneous investment in public education about both interaction rules and their biological rationale has been and is likely to be relatively low. To test the hypothesis that more educational signage will reduce human-generated disturbance of dolphins, a paper questionnaire was distributed to 351 land-based, mostly unguided visitors at three dolphin resting bays on Hawai‘i Island’s west coast. Responses indicated that visitors wanted to see dolphins, were ignorant of interaction rules, were likely to read signs explaining rules and their biological rationales, and were likely to follow known rules. Therefore, investment in effective educational signage at dolphin resting bays is recommended as one way to support conservation of spinner dolphins on Hawai‘i Island’s west coast and similar sites in the Hawaiian archipelago.