Protecting Marine Species


There are several marine mammals, turtles and fish in Hawai`i that are protected by both State and federal laws. These legal protections are in place to ensure these species populations continue to recover. Interacting with a “protected species” can be a violation of these laws and may result in harm to the animal, inhibit population recovery, or result in fines or other penalties. Below is an overview of the various protections, the animals they protect, and how you can avoid or mitigate interactions while boating.


The Endangered Species Act
The Endangered Species Act (ESA) of 1973 is a federal act that provides legal protection to at-risk plants and animals and the ecosystems they rely upon. The United States Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) share responsibility for administering this act. All species listed under the ESA and are given a status in a range from “Least Concern” to “Extinct” which determines their level of protection.


The Marine Mammal Protection Act  
The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA) of 1972 serves exclusively to protect marine mammal species. NMFS, USFWS and the Marine Mammal Commission (MMC) share responsibility for administering and implementing this act.  All marine mammals are protected under the MMPA. Some, including Hawaiian monk seals and the Hawaiian insular population of false killer whales, are also protected under the Federal Endangered Species Act (ESA).  Both of these acts prohibit the “take” of any of the species they protect. “Take” means “to harass, harm, pursue, hunt, shoot, wound, kill, trap, capture, collect, or attempt to engage in any such conduct”. Violations could result in federal criminal charges up to $50,000 and/or time in jail. Minor charges can result in fines anywhere from $500-$12,000.


National Marine Sanctuaries Act
Humpback whales are protected in the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. The sanctuary is co-managed as a Federal-State partnership by the Hawai`i Department of Land and Natural Resources (DLNR) and the NOAA Fisheries Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. For detailed information about laws and policies pertaining to protected marine species, visit the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) web site:


Hawai`i State Laws
Endangered, threatened and indigenous species, including humpback whales, false killer whales, Hawaiian monk seals, the yellow-bellied sea snake, numerous species of dolphins and all species of turtles are protected under the Hawaii Revised Statutes Chapter 195D. The State of Hawai`i DLNR has responsibility to protect and conserve native wildlife and their habitats, including the species listed under the federal acts above.  In addition, Hawai`i Administrative Rule §13-124 serves to conserve, manage, protect and enhance indigenous wildlife. For more information on State protections, please visit the links below.


Reporting Marine Animals
Your help is requested to call in any monk seal, false killer whale, hawksbill sea turtle, oceanic white tip shark or oceanic manta sighting. You can also use the Marine Animal Response Hotline to report any marine animal that is in distress; injured, entangled, hooked, or diseased. Please add the Marine Animal Response Hotline: 1-888-256-9840 into your contacts.

Option 1: Monk seal sightings or emergency’s
Option 2: Sea turtle emergency’s
Option 3: Entangled dolphin or whale
Option 4: Injured or dead dolphin or whale
Option 5: False killer whales, oceanic manta, oceanic whitetip shark
Option 6: Report harassment or illegal activities; NOAA Office Of Law Enforcement
Option 7: Sea birds


Monk Seals
Hawaiian monk seals (Neomonachus schauinslandi) are native to the Hawaiian Islands and occur nowhere else in the world. Currently, it is estimated that there are only about 1,400 Hawaiian monk seals remaining, most of which can be found in the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument in the Northwest Hawaiian Islands. There is significant archaeological evidence of historical presence on the populated main Hawaiian Islands.  Today monk seal sightings are becoming more common in the MHI, especially on Kaua`i and O`ahu.  They remain listed as “endangered” under the ESA.

Under the MMPA and ESA it is illegal to feed seals and any other marine mammal.  Please do not discard old bait or scraps into the water when a seal is around.   Doing so increases the likelihood that a seal will return for more, and once an animal is habituated it will increasingly look for close contact with humans. This can lead to possible injury to boaters and swimmers, increased stealing of fish off fishers lines, and increasing a seal’s risk of accidental hooking or entanglement.

If you see a Hawaiian monk seal give it space and let it rest.  Please report your seal sightings as scientists use this information to learn more about the behaviors, population status and health of the animals. In addition, if you see any obvious sign of injuries, such as an open wound or entanglement in rope or net, or are unsure about it’s health, report to the Marine Animal Response Hotline at 1-888-256-9840.  For more information about monk seals, please visit:


Sea Turtles
Green sea turtles (Chelonia mydas) and hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) occur in nearshore waters of Hawai`i. The population of green sea turtles in the central north Pacific ocean is distinct and listed as threatened under Federal and State law. Hawksbill sea turtles, listed as an endangered species, are sighted much less frequently than green sea turtles.  The green sea turtle population is increasing, but the species remains threatened by habitat loss, disease, accidental interactions in coastal fisheries, and boat strikes. Due to the growing green sea turtle population, interactions with vessels are increasing. 

Collisions with turtles can result in blunt force trauma to a turtle’s carapace, propeller cuts and death.  In an encounter with a vessel, a turtle is always the loser, but a small vessel may sustain hull damage leading to flooding and sinking. To avoid a sea turtle vessel collision, please proceed slowly when transiting near harbors, boat launches and shallow reef areas where turtles frequent. When able, always post a secondary lookout aboard your vessel. When you see turtles in the water, please keep your distance.  Do not try to get close to the animal, and do not feed turtles so they don’t learn to associate boats with handouts. For more information about sea turtles, please visit:


False Killer Whales
There are three populations of false killer whales (or Pseudorca crassidens) in Hawaiian waters. This was discovered based on a combination of association patterns (social groups or clusters), genetics, and movements from satellite tagging.

The three populations are:

  1. Offshore (pelagic) population
  2. Northwestern Hawaiian Islands population
  3. Main Hawaiian Islands (insular)

The Main Hawaiian Island (MHI) population are long-term residents, and are genetically different from other Pseudorca, making them unique to our Hawaiian Waters. The insular false killer whale (IFKW) population was listed as endangered under the ESA in November 2012. False killer whales are uncommon everywhere – they are top predators, reproduce very slowly, and are naturally rare.

False killer whales are often referred to as blackfish with similar-looking species such as the pygmy killer whale, melon-headed whale, and the short-finned pilot whale. To learn how to identify false killer whales from the other blackfish, please call: 1-888-256-9840, option # 5.  The Blackfish ID guide is also available at your local DAR and DOBOR harbor offices.

Your help is requested to report sightings and interactions with false killer whales to increase knowledge about the insular population. If you have a sighting or interaction with a FKW please report the date, time, and location by calling the Marine Animal Response Hotline: 1-888-256-9840, option # 5.

For more information about false killer whales, please visit


Humpback Whales
Federal law states that no one may approach a humpback whale(Megaptera novaeangliae) within 100 yards in Hawaiian waters. This means that all ocean users (boaters, swimmers, surfers, drones, etc.) must stay at least 100 yards from any humpback whale at all times. In addition, all manned aircraft must remain at least 1,000 feet away from humpback whales. NOAA and DLNR issue a very limited number of special permits to researchers and rescue personnel to get closer than 100 yards. If, while on the water, you find a whale closer than 100 yards to you – if a humpback whale approaches you, for instance – NOAA asks that you remain stationary and wait for the whale to move away. If you are in a motorized vessel, please put your engine in neutral (do not turn it off) and wait for the whale to move away. For more information about marine life watching rules and guidelines, please visit


Oceanic Whitetip Sharks and Pelagic Manta Rays
Both the oceanic whitetip sharks (Carcharhinus longimanus) and pelagic manta rays (Mobula birostris) are listed under the ESA and are found throughout the main Hawaiian Islands. If you encounter either in the water or have an accidentally hooking, please release in a manner that minimizes injury to both yourself and the animal. All photos or sighting information from encounters with these species are appreciated. To report a sighting please call 1-888-256-9840, option # 5. For more information,  please visit


Best-Practices for Viewing Protected Species
Except for humpback whales (see above), there is no law specifying the minimum distance people can approach a marine mammal or sea turtle. However, getting close to these animals may constitute a Federal or State violation if the animal is disturbed or if your actions have the potential to disturb its natural behavioral patterns.  NOAA and DLNR recommend, for your safety and the animals’ protection, that all persons stay at least:

  • 10 feet from sea turtles (on land in the water);
  • 50 feet from Hawaiian monk seals, or behind any signs or barriers;
  • 50 yards from dolphins and small whales (and do not swim with them);
  • 100 yards from humpback whales.

If maintaining this distance isn’t possible, keep safety in mind and move away from the animal as carefully as possible, avoiding sudden movements and other actions that might disturb the animal. For wildlife viewers, please enjoy from a distance – use binoculars and telephoto lenses to get the best views without disturbing the wildlife. For more information about marine life viewing rules and guidelines, please visit:


Best practices for Fishing around Protected Species
Utilize barbless hooks:
You can crimp the barb off of your hooks with a pair of pliers.

  1. It’s better for the fish. It’s easier to quickly release unwanted catch without causing damage to the fish, which means more and healthier fish for you to catch in the future.
  2. It’s better for you. Minimize injury to yourself and others, as well as damage to shirt, shorts, and nets.
  3. It’s better for Hawai`i’s protected species. Barbless hooks reduce potential injury in the event of an accidental hooking or entanglement, and allow for quicker release or self-shedding release to reduce trauma and enable a return to normal activities.

For more information about fishing around protected species or for free barbless circle hooks please visit:


Fishing Around Sea Turtles
If you accidentally catch a sea turtle, IT’S OK TO HELP! Just remember, SAFETY FIRST (for you and the turtle).

  1. Reel in turtle with care. Please bring in the animal for disentanglement. Do the best you can to reel-in (land) the animal carefully. DO NOT drag a turtle up a cliff.
  2. Hold turtle by its shell and/or flippers.
  3. Cut line close to hook as short as possible.
  4. Remove the hook only if it can be done without injury to you or the turtle. If the hook barb is exposed smash the barb down to easily extract the hook and shorten the handling time of the turtle. DO NOT remove the hook if swallowed. If using a barbless hook (see above), then the hook should easily come out.
  5. Release turtle with no line attached. Remove any line from flippers, head and neck. Help to remove any remaining line from the reef. Dispose of the line in a responsible manner.
  6. Please report hookings to the Marine Animal Response Hotline: 1-888-256-9840.


Fishing Around Monk Seals
Hookings are often life threatening for seals. If you see a seal in the area please consider moving your lines to a different location until the seal leaves.  Please REPORT hookings immediately. If you hook a seal or see a sick or injured seal, please call the Marine Animal Response Hotline: 1-888-256-9840. Do not attempt to disentangle a seal on your own, please call first!


Fishing Around False Killer Whales
Hookings or entanglement can be life threatening for false killer whales. If you see a false killer whale in the area please consider moving your vessel to a different location.

  1. Be aware in high sighted areas – they may target your catch and approach your vessel.
  2. Change direction to avoid interactions, move perpendicular to the animals’ swimming direction; bring in lines.
  3. If you hook one, try to straighten the hook and cut the gear close to the animal to avoid trailing line.
  4. Take photos of the dorsal fin and head if possible. Send to our email listed below.

Please REPORT hookings immediately, If you hook a whale or dolphin or see a sick or injured whale, please call the Marine Animal Response Hotline: 1-888-256-9840, Option # 5. For maps, ID guides or other educational materials please visit:


Law Violations
If you see a potential violation of the MMPA, ESA, or state laws, please call DLNR’s Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement (DOCARE) statewide hotline: 643-DLNR (3567) or NOAA’s Enforcement Hotline at 1-800-853-1964 or. You may also download the free DLNR-Tip app to send information and photos directly to DLNR, or email photos and videos to [email protected].

You Can Make a Difference and Save a Marine Animal in Distress
It is essential for boaters and ocean users to report injured or distressed marine animals.  It could mean the difference between life and death.  The toll-free, reporting hotline for all fishery interactions and other marine wildlife incidents is 1-888-256-9840.  DLNR and NOAA Fisheries urge all fishermen and other ocean users to save this number in their mobile phones for timely use whenever they see a marine animal that is in need of assistance. For additional information, visit:


Please Report Marine Debris:
Please Call 808-587-0400 or Email a photo and location description with your contact information to: dlnr[email protected]

Marine debris pose a large hazard to boaters as well as marine animals. Marine debris occurrence is increasing around the Hawaiian islands and interferes with navigational safety. Marine animals can be injured or killed in marine debris. This debris can also bring invasive species to our islands. Please visit for more information or to make a report.