A group of 33 swimmers in Hawaii has been accused of "aggressively pursuing, corralling, and harassing" a pod of dolphins by the state's wildlife officials.
The swimmers were seen "actively pursuing" the dolphins off the coast of Hōnaunau Bay this past Sunday, according to a press release from the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR). The DLNR additionally released still images and drone footage of the swimmers allegedly chasing the dolphins.
The footage shows the large group of swimmers appearing to corral the dolphins by continually moving towards them, even as the creatures can be seen heading in the opposite direction. After the swimmers returned to land, DLNR said, they were contacted by law enforcement, who came upon them during a routine patrol of the area.
A criminal investigation has been opened into the incident by Hawaii's Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement and law enforcement from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), the statement said.
It is possible that the group could be facing federal charges. A federal law enacted by the NOAA in 2021 prohibits "swimming with, approaching, or remaining within 50 yards of a Hawaiian spinner dolphin." The law was created to ensure that Hawaii's dolphins can "shelter undisturbed in their resting habitat," BBC News reported, as there were concerns that the nocturnal animals were unable to sleep during the day because of harassment by humans.
This law applies to all waters within two nautical miles of the Hawaiian Islands.
This is the second time this month that accusations have arisen of harassing wildlife in Hawaii. On March 7, a man who refers to himself as 'Dolphin Dave' was cited by the DLNR for harassing humpback whales and dolphins when he went snorkeling with them, CBS News reported.