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Understanding Spinner Dolphin Marine Tourism in Hawai'i: A Social Approach to Assessing Underwater Interactions

By Carlie S. Wiener

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The popularity of wild spinner dolphin interactions in the Hawaiian Islands has led to the expansion of businesses that incorporate in-water experiences with the dolphins. The growth of dolphin-related commerce has spread so quickly that regulations have not been able to keep up. Subsequently, dolphin-swim tourism has redefined how local residents interact with their community and the dolphins. This dissertation attempts to cross traditional research boundaries by incorporating approaches from both biological and social disciplines, including phenomenology, narrative inquiry, ethology, and ecological economics. The research identifies social, economic, and cultural conditions that affect the dolphin-swim industry using an integrative, three-part research strategy. Methods included semi-structured interviews, dolphin-swim participant surveys, and video analysis of underwater footage documenting dolphin-human encounters. Data were collected for two popular dolphin-swim areas in Waianae, Oahu and Kailua-Kona, Hawaii Island, which were used to compare and contrast community attitudes, commercial operations, economic value, and observed human behavior during dolphin swims. This is the first known attempt to document and analyze in-water human behavior in the presence of wild dolphins. Statistically significant differences between the two dolphin-swim communities were observed in dolphin-swim experiences, community attitudes, and commercial value. These differences are currently not considered by management in dolphin-swim policy recommendations. By providing a comprehensive analysis of dolphin-swim participants and community and commercial changes, this research can help to inform new policy.


Marcy Wilhelm-South

Purdue University

Date 2016
Pages 236
Department Environmental Studies
Degree Doctor of Philosophy
Language English
University York University
  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animal roles
  3. Conservation
  4. Dolphins
  5. Hawaii
  6. human-wildlife interactions
  7. Mammals
  8. Phenomenological Research
  9. Tourism and travel
  10. Wild animals
  11. wildlife management