Born Free Foundation - Keep Wildlife in the Wild

Back to the Blue

The objective of the Back to the Blue project was to undertake a programme of work, operating to internationally recognised standards of animal welfare and management, aimed at releasing two captive dolphins, Tom and Misha, back to the wild.

During spring and summer 2010, Born Free Foundation’s Travellers’ Animal Alert! campaign received complaints from concerned tourists regarding two bottlenose dolphins held in a swimming pool style structure in Hisaronu, south east Turkey.  At the same time, Turkey-based campaign group, the Dolphin Angels, were mounting an effective local campaign against the facility and a Facebook campaign was attracting growing support.  A team from Born Free visited the site to investigate.  The findings included a hastily constructed, extremely small and poorly filtered pool, in which two large dolphins swam in their own waste.

In September 2010, after the owner had fled and considerable negotiations with the facilities’ creditors had taken place, an agreement was reached to transfer ownership of the dolphins to Born Free.  Born Free, in collaboration with Turkish organisation, Underwater Research Society (SAD) and Dolphin Angels then undertook the emergency rescue of Tom and Misha and relocated them to a temporary sea pen in southern Turkey.  The dolphins were subsequently moved to a specially designed large, deep rehabilitation sea pen constructed by Born Free.  It is here that Tom and Misha underwent rehabilitation with the aim of successfully being released back to the wild.

Before rescue © BFF
After rescue © Gavin Parsons

While the focus of this project was the rehabilitation of Tom and Misha, it is also hoped that the project protocols, will provide a workable, realistic and cost effective process that can be internationally replicated in the future. Back to the Blue also aimed to highlight the plight of captive dolphins and the repercussions of the increasing demand for ‘swim-with’ opportunities.

Find further details on the background of Misha and Tom below


In spring 2010, Born Free received complaints via its Travellers Animal Alert! campaign about a newly constructed pool in the centre of Turkish holiday resort town, Hisaronu, which was rumoured to become a dolphin swim-with attraction.  

Initial investigations and a visit by the Born Free team with Born Free Patron, Helen Worth, revealed two dolphins being kept within an inadequate, polluted and distressing swimming pool-style structure.  Tom and Misha had been transported to the “Dolphin Park” by their owners in the back of a truck without support for over two hours.  The owners did not even have a licence to operate a dolphinarium in Hisaronu.

Helen Worth with Misha and Tom in Hisaronu © BFF

Research into the dolphins’ history revealed that the two male bottlenose dolphins, Tom and Misha, had been captured from the eastern coastal area of the Aegean Sea.  They are estimated to be between 12 and 20 years of age and were introduced to a dolphinarium in Turkey called Dolphin Therapy Kas before being moved to the pool in Hisaronu to ‘cash-in’ on the 2010 summer tourist season.

Subsidence at Misha and Tom's pool in Hisaronu © BFF

Located in a noisy part of the town where loud music was played from late-night bars, the pool in Hisaronu was 17m x 12m, with a maximum depth of 4m.  There was significant subsidence around the pool - up to 50cm in some areas.  Water quality in the pool was poor and large numbers of dead fish, dolphin faeces and general waste was left on the bottom of the pool indicating insufficient cleaning and filtration.  This was hazardous for both the dolphins and any humans entering the pool.

Outrage at these horrific conditions led to a large Facebook campaign, international newspapers reported on the dolphins’ plight and demonstrations were held in Hisaronu.  With the assistance of Donal MacIntyre, the Born Free team visited on two further occasions to try and negotiate their release. While these negotiations continued, Donal successfully gained access to the dolphins for our veterinary consultant, John Knight.  Though very concerned about the dolphins, the initial findings led the team to remain cautiously optimistic about their chances of rehabilitation and release should a rescue be feasible.

Read about Misha and Tom's emergency rescue here.

Born Free Foundation
Broadlands Business Campus, Langhurstwood Road
, Horsham, RH12 4QP, UK - Charity Reg. No. 1070906

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