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Two Dolphins Go Back To The Sea

May 17, 2012

Mostly we take dolphins FROM the sea. We put them in marine parks, we charge tourists to watch them do tricks and to swim with them, and we often breed them to produce more dolphins that can stock the parks. So it is pretty cool when there is an attempt to take captive dolphins and send them in the other direction: back to the wild.

It’s a process that is highly complex (the dolphins have to be taught how to hunt for themselves again, among other things), and many argue that returning marine park dolphins to the wild puts their lives at risk. So we should pay close attention to what is happening with Tom and Misha, two dolphins who have been rescued from a filthy pool in Turkey, rehabilitated and prepared for release by marine mammal experts, and set free in the Aegean.

Tom and Misha are part of an expensive, ambitious and risky program sponsored by the UK-based Born Free Foundation, which is aiming to prove that captive dolphins can be reintroduced to the wild.

For more than a year, Foster and his team worked in a quiet cove on the Aegean, teaching the two dolphins how to catch their own food. He said the intensive training was necessary to get the dolphins ready to fend for themselves.

“It would be like taking your dog and releasing it into the woods,” Foster said. “If you don’t prepare your dog for that, it would never happen.”

When Foster first met these dolphins more than a year ago, he said they would eat only if humans placed dead fish directly in their mouths.

“We had literally thousands of fish in the pen, and they just wouldn’t look at them,” Foster said. “They had just been so used to being hand-fed in a captive situation that they did not recognize fish as a food source.”

If they can survive, and even thrive in the wild, it will help establish that marine park releases, for dolphins that are good candidates, are viable. So far, Tom and Misha–who are wearing trackers–are doing well: heading toward the waters they originally were taken from, interacting with other dolphins, and feeding themselves.

Here’s the latest report on their progress, from the Born Free Foundation, which is managing the project:

Tuesday 15th May. An update in from Jeff confirms another sighting of Tom, who is looking good and displaying good, natural  behaviours.  Tom is still near the island of Samos and a local contact has confirmed that there is a good supply of mullet in the area, so this could explain his liking for this spot.  Meanwhile, satellite indicates that Misha is about 30 miles away.  Depending on the weather, the team hope to get a visual on Tom in the morning and they may then travel in the direction of Misha, who is moving around a lot within an area where there are believed to be many other dolphins.  There is still a way to go yet, but these early indications remain encouraging.


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