Wild Release of 3 Bottlenose Dolphins
Dolphin: Case File
“Rocky” (M) caught Florida Panhandle in 1971 and maintained at Marineland in Morecambe, North England;
“Missie” (F) caught off Biloxi, Texas in 1969 and maintained at Brighton Aquarium, South of England.
“Silver” (M) believed to have been caught waters of Taiwan in 1978 and also housed at Brighton Aquarium.
Species Bottlenose dolphins
Type of Facility Aquaria/Dolphinariums show based
Age Rocky had spent 20 years in captivity, Missie 22 years and Sliver 15 years.
This dolphin release project was called INTO THE BLUE and was operated by a consortium of animal welfare and animal rights groups and organisations including:Zoo Check (the Born Free Foundation,UK), Bellerive Foundation (Switzerland) and the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA )The project was funded from an appeal by the British Mail on Sunday newspaper. Chuck Hess – founder of the local environment concern group: PRIDE (Foundation for the Preservation of reefs and Islands from Degradation and Exploitation) supplied the location in the Turks and Caicos Islands in the British West Indies.
More recently the story was made into a documentary by Michael Cain entitled, ´´Into the Blue´´,for TV in 1991.
A conch farm lagoon made available by Chuck Hess in the Turks and Caicos Islands to serve as a rehabilitation centre prior to the release of the animals.
This project obtained three ‘redundant´ animals from U.K. dolphinaria, rehabilitated them and released them off the coast of the Turks and Caicos Islands.
Date of rescue
“Rocky” was transported to the conch farm lagoon from the UK on February 11, 1991; “Missie” and “Silver” on March 19, 1991.
Rescue Process Followed
The animals were moved from the conch farm to a floating sea pen off West Caicos Island on September 7, 1991. They were released from this to the wild at 1.30.pm on Tuesday, September 10, 1991. All three animals had “freeze branding” on their dorsal fins. “In the acclimation sea pen, they learned how to capture live fish”.
Post Release Follow Up
The three animals were seen a day after release at this location.”Missie” and “Rocky” have not been seen since this time by project staff; all sightings after this point were second hand by fisherman and tourists.
“Silver” was seen after the release from September 16 – 29 by project staff. He appeared to have some weight lost and health problems (an infection on his rostrum) and was given both food (a total of sixty pounds) and antibiotics by project staff in the wild over this period. This indicates that he was taking time to adapt to the pathogens in the wild. He was also associating with a wild “friendly” dolphin that swam in this area called “Jojo”, demonstrating that he was re-adapting socially with wild species. After this time all “Silver”s sightings were also second-hand by tourists and fishermen. All three dolphins have been re-sighted numerous times since then. In several of the recent sightings, Silver was in the company of JoJo, a “friendly” dolphin that swims near Club Med at Providenciales´´. All sightings from this point onwards were second hand through tourists and fishermen, not enough, to silence serious criticism of the project. Thus,we can take the middle ground : follow-up tentatively successful.
This project came under fire from all angles:
- the project was a controversial one and serious scientific concern was expressed re garding the eventual release of the three dolphins into the Caribbean in September 1991. This was due – among other considerations – to the fact that the three animals were not originally from these waters and were, therefore, genetically foreign, making the release an action that went against any current IUCN guidelines on reintroduction….., a documentary of this project, shown on BBC 2 in 1992, was the subject of an investigation by the Broadcasting Complaints Commission, published in October 1993. After investigation, the Commission upheld six of twelve complaints against the programme claiming that it was emotive, inaccurate or misleading.´ The ultimate fate of these animals seems to me to remain unknown´´(John Dinely, main marine park associate scientist,written in the International Zoo Newsletter)Another report from a marine park spokesman in the U.K. went so far as to label the whole project a fraud.
To date, there has not been any evidence of these dolphins affecting the wild population through pathogens,and the fact that one of the dolphins was seen associating with the wild population is definitely positive.
Instead of arguing endlessly, due to different organizations with their different agendas, would it not be more constructive to ask the questions:what can we learn?what can be done better? This project demonstrates the incredible need for a centre to develop proper scientific protocols, so that releases can be carefully planned, orchestrated and followed up, in a way that will silence the critics,and get people together finding answers instead of incessantly arguing. The incredible knowledge gained will bring benefits for all parties,once people let go of their agendas and focus together on the job at hand.
(note:this author is convinced that the release was conducted responsibly and without intent to deceive)
- First Article written by John Dineley,2010 (of the opinion that releasing has no scientific basis)
- Balcomb, K.C. 1995. Cetacean Releases. Centre for Whale Research, Friday Harbour, WA.