On Monday the 7th of May I flew out to Turkey via Luton to help and represent BDMLR with the release of Tom and Misha, the two dolphins rescued over 20 months ago from a decrepit dolphinarium near Marmaris.
Within these 20 months the combined efforts of BDMLR, other organisations, many individuals all combined and overseen by the Born Free Foundation have worked to rehabilitate these two dolphins so they could returned successfully to the wild.
After a practice run for fitting the tags and a final health check with everybody learning their stations the day before release and with everything double checked we were confident the Wednesday release was on schedule. Afterwards there were quite a few invited guests arriving along with some media personnel.
Wednesday morning and after a quick breakfast we were quickly suited up in wetsuits and dry suits depending on tasks assigned.
Tagging was done as per the practice run with no stress and both Tom and Misha co operating throughout. Once tagging was finished, final measurements taken and both dolphins patiently waiting in the med pool the technical team was joined on the pen by media and guests. Once the med pen was aligned with the outer pen opening the two pens were joined and the netting to the door was ceremoniously opened by Virginia McKenna, Helen Worth and Darya, a local girl who has been part of the project looking after Tom and Misha from the beginning.
After a few minutes Tom swam out and was swiftly followed by Misha, they surfaced at the far end of the bay and were heading swiftly into the open water. We followed for a few hours using the VHF tracker to find them when visual sighting was lost. After swimming for a while in the large bay they were heading quickly once again out towards the Med. After this I returned to the base at the sailing club whilst the tracking boat and yacht followed the dolphins planning to spend the following week tracking their movements and checking their health.
Within the first 48 hours they had covered over 140km, had been seen and photographed hunting live fish and had hunted in the company of a third dolphin. They also seemed to be making a straight run back to the area where they were reportedly originally captured. Hopefully this success in the wild will continue.
My role for BDMLR was to help with the tagging to learn about and report back all information about these new style tags regarding application/hardware and deployment in the hope that we can use these tags here in the UK for post release monitoring of our rescued dolphins. I must say that compared to the old ones we learnt on quite a few years ago now that these seem far less stressful for both medic/vet and animal as well as being less invasive and more efficient.
So far, Back To The Blue project has been a success but for it truly to be a success we have to show that the dolphins can survive in the wild on their own and long term. This is why the tagging and post release monitoring is so important. So fingers crossed that the current success continues.
This project has been a huge undertaking by many organisations and many, many individuals giving their time and specialist skills to make sure it’s a success. For my small part I had some pretty big shoes and reputations to follow after the involvement of BDMLR personnel preceding me. I heard nothing but good words and praise for the way everybody from BDMLR who has been a part of it has just got on with the job at hand regardless of conditions, as an organisation we are known for getting stuck in and doing whatever it takes.
For me personally I would like to thank BDMLR, Alan Knight and James Barnett along with Alison Hood from Born Free for including me in this final part of the project. Also a huge thanks to all at Born Free, Alison, Caroline, Chris x2, John, Wendy, Shirley and Virginia for looking after me so well.
To all the technical team on site - your dedication is inspirational.
To all the BDMLR team that went before me, Alan, Mark, Dave, Gavin, Emma, to Doug, Jeff and the many others, your efforts are well appreciated and admired by all I spoke to.
Also to all BDMLR medics everywhere, as essentially it is us all that make BDMLR what it is and BDMLR’s part in this global project is as a team and its as a team that we have played a part in a very special project, something we should all be proud of.
Swim Wild Tom and Misha.
BDMLR Highland Seal Hospital Manager