Today, the Born Free Foundation and Turkish partners Sualti Arastirmalari Dernegi (SAD), announced that two young male bottle nose dolphins, Tom and Misha, rescued from a squalid swimming pool in Hisaronu in South West Turkey, are on course and soon to be released back into their home waters.
The dolphins are currently undergoing a rehabilitation programme in a sea pen at a secret location off Turkish waters and are set to be released later this year.
Cetacean expert from the USA, Jeff Foster, who heads up the team in Turkey, said, “Tom and Misha have been undergoing a rigorous programme of detraining and rehabilitation, in preparation for their eventual release back into Mediterranean waters. These two dolphins have both shown incredible resilience and we are working hard to give them the best chance of surviving back in the wild.”
Tom and Misha made headline news in May last year, following a public campaign led by the Dolphin Angels in Turkey and subsequent media outcry about the conditions the pair were being kept in.
Housed in a crumbling and contaminated pool, the dolphins had been brought to the Turkish holiday resort in the back of a fruit and veg van, to be part of a commercial and unregulated ‘swim with programme’, aimed at pulling tourists in at 50 dollars a piece and capitalising on the lucrative tourism market to swim with dolphins. However, with mounting debts and a pool that risked not only the health of the dolphins but tourists alike, due to the high levels of harmful bacteria, the owner fled the scene leaving the dolphins with barely weeks to live.
Born Free and SAD had been monitoring the situation throughout and worked around the clock, speaking to governments and tourist officials to end this exploitation and allow the dolphins to be confiscated.
In September the pressure paid off and the local government office in Fethiye issued an order for the pool to be closed and the dolphins to be rehomed. With a 48 hour notice, Born Free and SAD made a mercy dash to the location and mounted a joint rescue operation to move the animals to a temporary seapen.
In October last year a specially designed sea pen, and the deepest in the world for captive dolphins, was shipped in, to further facilitate the dolphins transition from captivity back to their natural home.
On arrival at the rehab site the dolphins were underweight and were showing physical and emotional signs of trauma. In their final days at the pool they had ceased to eat any food and this was a major concern for the rehab team.
John Knight, Born Free’s senior veterinary consultant, who has been monitoring the dolphins throughout, said, “We were very concerned as to whether Tom and Misha would make it out of the pool and into the pen and if their time in captivity would prevent a full recovery to good health, to allow them to be candidates for a release programme.
Fortunately, these two young dolphins pulled through and after close monitoring and the administering of appropriate health care, backed by our dedicated team’s expertise and patience, we started to see clear signs of an improvement to their health”.
Foster added, “One of the major problems has been building up the dolphins’ body weight and muscle strength, after their years of languishing in the pool and ensuring that they have a good and balanced fish diet. They need maximum levels of fitness to survive in the wild. It’s the equivalent of putting an athlete through their paces”.
Currently captive marine facilities in Turkey stand outside any EU legislation and are totally unregulated. Born Free and SAD are calling for an immediate review by the Turkish Government, whilst further criticising the International position on ‘swim with programmes’.
Alison Hood, Born Free’s Programmes Director said, “As long as people continue to swim with captive dolphins then the problems will persist. The keeping of captive dolphins in many countries is unregulated and those where there is legislation, fall way short of offering captive dolphins anything anywhere near what we believe they would need. Dolphins are highly complex social animals and they need the rich diversity of a marine environment. This cannot be replicated in a chlorinated tank”.
Tom and Misha’s rehabilitation programme continues and they are being closely monitored on the run up to their release later this year. The pair will be tagged and post release monitoring carried out following their release.
This major project is one of the most high profile for dolphin rehabilitation for many years. Born Free and SAD are appealing for funding to enable to help guide this project to a successful conclusion.