Marine Life Guidelines: The Importance of Ocean Etiquette

It seems whenever people are near marine animals, they tend to lose composure. I mean, we get it. At Hawaii Ocean Project, we run all sorts of ocean charters that bring visitors within stunning proximity. We see firsthand how visitors react, most of them being their first time interacting with sea life, so all too often decorum is the first thing to go. Fortunately, ocean etiquette is easy to keep in mind. It maintains the safety of observation for visitors and protects the well-being of the animals. Safeguards may not sound like fun, but believe us, you can still have fun while being mindful of our ocean friends. Respect isn’t just a human concern. It’s necessary when interacting with nature.

The main thing we like to emphasize is distance. We do get visitors as up close to the phenomenon as possible, but never at the expense of the animal’s privacy or the safety of our passengers. Distance ensures the safety of both parties. Even on our Whale Watch tours, we will never chase down a whale like Captain Ahab. We could potentially disrupt their migration patterns or worse, get between a mother and her calf. That is a fury we’d like to leave to the imagination. In any case, humpback whales are in such high frequency in the surrounding waters of Maui that they tend to find us. When they do, we shut off our engines and let the spectacle unfold.

That’s what we stress the most on our tours. We are not out to disturb or provoke, and we pass this along to our passengers. When you’re in the water, don’t go searching for active phenomena. Let it find you. There are over 250 species to be found at Molokini Crater alone. Dolphins frolic alongside our Lanai excursions. Green sea turtles pop by on shore from time to time. The ocean is plenty active as it is. We are lucky enough to be able to interact with them the way we do.

You are guaranteed to see a variety of sea life on our snorkel tours. These charters are so frequent, the coral’s residents have become accustomed to our presence, but that isn’t something to take advantage of. Though it’s tempting, do not touch the animals. Just a slight curiosity can run the risk of injuring them. Fish are covered in a slimy coating that protects them from disease and infection. A pet, even a touch, is enough to remove the coating on their bodies and thus leave them vulnerable.

Chasing or prodding fish could agitate them, and an agitated fish will do a lot more than prod you back. The same goes for green sea turtles. Just because they’re slow, it does not mean you can chase them. They’re not ninjas, but they do bite. They are protected under Hawaii state law, as are Hawaiian monk seals – themselves protected under the Endangered Species Act, which is all the more reason for us to leave them be. We are not here to bother, just to observe.

We ask that you do not feed the animals either. It may seem harmless, but giving them food they’re not accustomed to can disrupt their feeding cycles and have serious repercussions for their health. Feeding animals conditions them to receive food as opposed to gathering for themselves, thus changing their natural behavior which they will pass onto their young. There’s an entire ecosystem down there that lives in harmony. We are not here to disrupt that.

Ocean etiquette is a simple matter of respect. Everyone, even fish, deserves our respect. This is their home. We are guests. More importantly, we are stewards. It’s up to us. At Hawaii Ocean Project we are doing what we can to minimize our impact on the ocean. We never dump or litter; we take our trash with us. We tie our vessels down on mooring lines instead of anchoring. We immediately cease our engines if there’s a whale nearby and allow them the peace of uninterrupted passage. It’s all for the safety of these animals and their environment. This isn’t about saying what you can or can’t do in the ocean. It’s about being mindful of a place that millions of others call home.

Join us on one of our many ocean tours and discover for yourself what our wonderful ocean habitat has to offer! Mahalo!