Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Back to the Blue

Tom and Misha

Latest news:

July 2013 Update:

Born Free Foundation is currently preparing a report which details the activities undertaken during  ‘Back to the Blue’, our project that successfully rehabilitated and released two captive dolphins back to the wild in Turkey.  As soon as this is available it will be posted on-line.

 

Tom and Misha Update 2012-07-16

It is now over 60 days since Tom and Misha were released back to the wild.  Misha, after heading in the same direction as Tom for a few days, changed course  and headed east towards the area of Antalya.  The team  managed to observe him there last week, but only from a distance, and he is moving and diving well.

Meanwhile, Tom has headed to Kusadesi, not far from the area we believe he was originally caught. The team were also able to catch up with him.   Tom was always the more approachable of the two dolphins and the team were able to observe him more closely - and he looks magnificent.  He has gained weight since release.  The team spent several days in the area to observe his behaviour and the local reaction to his presence. Tom however soon moved on….so we’ll see what he decides to do next.

Tom and Misha Update 2012-07-02

It's now over 50 days since Tom and Misha were released and the initial daily cycling on the satalite tags has changed to every other day. Having gone their separate ways, a small contingent from the rehabilitation team is now working to try and get good, fresh visuals on both, starting with Misha.

Waving the VHF receiver checking for their VHF signal (these tags will expire soon), Derya Yildirim, on hearing the familiar 'chirp' says 'it's like hearing from an old friend'. Hearing Misha's signal is a welcome sound, and while Jeff and Derya have managed to get within approximately 100 meters, opportunity for close observation has not yet been possible. Misha is avoiding the boat! Similar follow up on Tom, who is about 500 km away will begin later this week.

Tom and Misha Update 2012-06-18

Derya Yildirim, who was the Born Free Foundation Site Manager for the Back to the Blue project, and is now working on the post release monitoring, reports with the latest news on Tom and Misha.

It is over a month now since Tom and Misha were released back to the wild. (9th of May). Both dolphins, following their initial separation after release, continue to adapt to their  ‘wildlife’ in different locations in the Eastern Mediterranean.

Misha has been swimming around between Antalya and Cyprus which is on the southern side of Turkey. From his moving pattern, which is tracked by the satellite tag, we can say that he remains active. The Back to the Blue team will soon try and track him via his VHF tag so that we can get more data on his progress and also, if possible, obtain some visual observations.

Meanwhile, Tom has been swimming around the Kusadasi area which is one of the more popular touristic towns. Following his initial arrival into this area, tourists and fishermen did, on several occasions try and approach him.  The team therefore undertook  a huge public awarness campaign in the area with the help of local NGO ‘EKODOSD’.  Since then the attention on Tom has reduced and we hope that soon, he will start to move away. Tom’s satellite signals continue to come from the same area but different spots, however, there were no visuals on him nearly for a week.

Tom and Misha update 2012-05-24

It’s now just over two weeks since Tom and Misha were released back into the wild and their progress continues to be tracked via their satellite tags and, with Tom, via his VHF tag.

Misha has moved about a great deal and appears to be hunting in the seas near to the island of Rhodes.  Tom, as you will see from the earlier reports, is near the Turkish mainland, and because of his tendency to travel and hunt near to the coastline, Jeff and Derya have based themselves in that region for a few days to monitor his progress.  In order to pick up a signal from a VHF transmitter they need to be within a few miles’ radius.  While the weather is hampering their efforts – and the tag signals – Jeff managed to get a sighting of Tom yesterday and confirmed that the VHF signal, that indicated Tom was in a feeding and travelling pattern, was proving a good indicator of his behaviour as Tom looked bright eyed, well fed and was making long dives.

After two weeks in the wild, and with their strong movement patterns, both dolphins appear to be adapting well to catching their own food.  There is now a good network of support in both Greece and Turkey which continues to spread the word about Tom and Misha, and the all important message to not approach them.  Progress so far remains encouraging and tracking will continue as long as is feasible.

 

TOM AND MISHA CONTINUE TO ADAPT TO LIFE IN THE WILD

DOLPHIN REHABILITATION PROGRAMME, TURKEY

Since their release into the wild on May 9th, following 20 months in a dedicated and expert rehabilitation programme, Tom and Misha have made excellent progress.  According to the satellite mapping, they have travelled hundreds of miles in a pattern that indicates they remain healthy and are feeding well.  While the dolphins have split up, the tracking team have been able to obtain many good visual observations of Tom confirming he is in excellent body condition thus supporting the information supplied by the satellite tags.

The main threat to their chances of making a full re-adaption to life in the wild is human intervention.  Both dolphins were originally wild caught and through their enforced captivity have known a great deal of human contact.  Their rehabilitation programme took them through the many stages required to reduce their dependance on human contact and transfer their diet from dead fish being fed to them by their carers to the hunting of remotely supplied live fish.  Via these techniques they have become efficient and independent hunters, as well as healthy and strong dolphins, ready to take their place back in the wild.

Recent reports confirm that Tom has been swimming in the vicinity of Kusadasi and it is here he has faced a potential threat from the unwarranted attention of the local aquarium. Representatives interacted with him with training whistles and the provision of food. Tom has confirmed his independence by swimming away. However, if such interactions are repeated again and again problems could ensue. 

‘This interaction with Tom is most unhelpful as he finally adapts to life back in the wild, and could cause a critical set back to Tom's progress if allowed to continue.  Our team in Turkey and our project lawyer, Sule Beder, have made it clear this intervention must stop immediately.  Our team is on-site now.’ confirmed Alison Hood.

Jeff Foster, who has led the rehabilitation programme and is in Kusadasi confirms ‘Tom is looking good.  Port Authorities in Turkey and Greece are being supportive and, understanding of this crucial time for Tom and Misha, are working with us to help ensure both dolphins integrate fully back to the wild without further human interference’.   

In Greece, Greek NGO Archipelagos Institute of Marine Conservation is working with the Port Authorities to relay the message that it is vital people do not interact with any dolphin that swims close to the shore. Harbour areas often provide good and sheltered hunting grounds for dolphins, so it is not surprising if Tom or Misha, or other wild dolphins, go in search of such a food source.  It is vitally important that such dolphins are not interfered with and allowed to behave naturally. In Turkey, the NGO Ekosistemi Koruma ve Doğa Severler Derneği  is working closely with the team and Sualti Arastirmalari Dernegi continue with their support.

The release

With a mighty surge Tom and Misha are free once more!

Rescued from death’s door and the confines of a filthy festering ‘swimming pool’ in Hisaronu, Turkey, nearly two years of careful care and preparation finally reached its stunning climax when the gate to their sea pen was opened for the first time and the two dolphins swam Back To The Blue.

At the opening of Tom and Misha’s gateway to freedom was legendary actress and wildlife campaigner Virginia McKenna OBE alongside Coronation Street favourite, Helen Worth, TV Investigator Donal MacIntyre and Derya Yildirim from the on-site team. See the moment as it happened in the video below:

Virginia, Jeff and Donal

Virginia McKenna was deeply moved by the whole experience:
We could hardly believe it. All the months of planning by our dedicated team, all the time, the money, the effort. As we prepared to lift the gate I know we were all asking the same question: would Tom and Misha take their chance of freedom? We should never have doubted! They looked. They paused and then they seemed to leap for joy as the barriers were finally removed; this was all the evidence we needed. Their release back into the wild is a dream come true.”

The international team of marine mammal experts from the US, UK and Turkey, led by Jeff Foster, masterminded the release every inch of the way. Jeff said, “Twenty months of intensive rehab work looks like they have paid off! Tom and Misha are looking great. We took two dolphins with perhaps only weeks to live and brought them back to full health and fitness, worked to teach them them the essential skills required for survival, such as catching live fish from the local seas which they now hunt enthusiastically. In my experience, if any former captive dolphins can make it back in the wild where they belong then Tom and Misha can.”

Helen Worth had been with the project since the beginning and said, ”When I first saw them in that hell of a pool I wondered if they would survive. It’s been the most heart-wrenching journey with so many challenges but each and every one of them has been overcome by the team and, most importantly, by Tom and Misha themselves. The drama and emotion of Tom and Misha’s story is an inspiration.”

The two dolphins are being tracked by state-of-the-art satellite and radio equipment. Within the first hour the tracking team reported that they had travelled a distance of 4.2 nautical miles hugging the coast before heading out to sea where they were later seen interacting with a wild dolphin.

The gleaming Aegean Sea, sandy bays and rocky inlets of the small protected area in Karaka, off the South West coast of Turkey, where the release took place, are a stark contrast to the contaminated and condemned pool that the dolphins were rescued from.

Tom and Misha (c)BFF
Helen Worth with Tom and Misha before their rescue

Reportedly captured from the wild off the provincial port of Ismir some 6 or 7 years ago, in 2010 Tom and Misha were taken to the mountainous tourist hotspot of Hisaronu where tourists were encouraged to pay to swim with them in a hastily-built pool as part of an ill-conceived business venture.

Donal MacIntyre, a journalist used to seeing the meaner side of life, was closely involved in negotiating the release of the animals. “Tom and Misha were dealt a tough hand and their fate was almost sealed before the Born Free team stepped in and righted a terrible injustice – just in the nick of time. I feel very proud to have been part of the incredible project and today has proved all the hard work was more than worth it.”

Born Free first learned of their plight through the campaigning work of the Dolphin Angels, a global group of activists who were horrified by the conditions in Hisaronu.

Nichola Chapman, spokesperson for Dolphin Angels, said “Dolphin Angels around the world campaigned tirelessly for Misha and Tom’s release. Thanks to Born Free and the dedicated rehabilitation team we are delighted to have witnessed Misha and Tom swim away from a life sentence in captivity, to become ambassadors for dolphin freedom everywhere.

Virginia said: “It cannot be right that these magnificent, intelligent and social animals are treated in such an appalling way and housed in unnatural and sterile environments around the world for so-called entertainment. Just for once, let’s put the animals first.”

Born Free is calling for an international ban on the capture of wild dolphins and hopes that Back To The Blue will provide a template for future dolphin release projects that will, one day, lead to the end of dolphins in captivity – as has been the case in the UK since 1991.

Jeff Foster concluded, “Seeing Tom and Misha race through the ocean, hunting and chasing fish and even hooking up with a wild dolphin after just a few hours of freedom, indicates that they are right on track. We will continue to travel with them and monitor their progress for a while to come – but for now it looks like it has been a great day.”

Misha is free
Misha after the release as the team look on
Tom fishing
Tom goes after a fish in the wild for the first time in years

Note: Tom and Misha’s rescue, care and release and the Back To The Blue project would not have been possible without the extraordinary help, support and encouragement of many organisations and individuals. On behalf of Tom and Misha and all at Born Free we want to say a huge Thank You to: The team at British Divers Marine Life Rescue, The Underwater Research Society (Turkey), Gokova Sailing Club, Dolphin Angels, Global Ocean, Thomson Airways, Thomas Cook, Jeff, Derya, Mike, Jim, Steve, Robin, Juli, Dan, Trevor, Mark, Sule, and John.

And of course to you, the Born Free supporters.

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