Dolphins are represented everywhere in Hawaii. You’ll see them in murals, paintings and sculptures. They’re on the holding ends of swizzle sticks in bars, forming the bases of lamps in hotel rooms and decorating the walls of lobbies and cocktail lounges.

It’s more than likely that you’ll see real live dolphins on your Hawaii vacation. If you’re on a local cruise or aboard a private boat, you may see a pod of dolphins join you — riding on the bow waves or the stern wake. While that behavior probably is adapted from the practice of riding ocean swells, the wakes of large whales or a mother dolphin’s “slip stream,” it seems for all the world that the friendly mammals are socializing with you. Seemingly carefree, they appear out of nowhere to put on a show for you. When they do, you may feel an almost irresistible urge to get in the water and play with them.

But swimming with dolphins in the wild is illegal. Humans and vessels have to maintain a distance of at least 50 yards. (It’s not illegal for dolphins to approach you, but it is against the law to approach, chase, surround, touch or swim with them.)

Some tour boat operators have developed acceptable self-regulating guidelines and offer small group tours with guides who are trained marine mammal naturalists. There are rules, generally including the following:

• Let the dolphins approach you and stay relaxed. Swim quietly alongside them

and when they swim away, don’t follow them.

• Don’t try to feed them. That would be harmful to their health as well as their

social behavior. They’ll find all the food they need on their own.

• Don’t try to get them to play with a toy. They can find their own toys in the

ocean.

Another way to get to know dolphins is to participate in the Dolphin Quest interactive program at the Kahala Hotel and Resort on Oahu or the Hilton Waikoloa Village on the Big Island. The program provides a variety of fun and educational encounters with dolphins. At the Kahala, the staff works with a small pod of dolphins training them to, among other things, interact with people. One staffer there says the dolphins are like Golden Retrievers because they love meeting new people. At Hilton Waikoloa Village, the dolphins reside in a protected area of the resort’s four-acre, saltwater lagoon.

Sea Life Park, on the east shore of Oahu, offers interactive dolphin experiences, too. The park’s Dolphin Adventures is a deep-water experience that allows you to swim with and among dolphins, and you’ll get a personal lesson from Sea Life Park trainers with a chance to view dolphins underwater and up close.

Such adventures are enormously popular, and expensive. At Sea Life Park, you can get a kiss on the cheek from a dolphin, a dorsal fin ride and a foot push (That’s when you get thrust across the water from the bottom of your feet from a dolphin’s bottle nose.)

Sound like fun? It costs almost $200 per person and will go up to $215 after the first of the year. (There are less expensive encounters, starting at about $100 for adults and $70 for kids.)

Plan well. At all the venues, the encounters are booked months ahead.

If you want to work a dolphin encounter into your vacation, Hawaii-Aloha.com can package one for you that accommodates all your other plans, and we’ll find you the best rates available. Pick an agent from our website at hawaii-aloha.com, or call 1-800-843-8771.

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