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Born Free USA Global Field Projects

Freedom!

Published 05/11/12

The following is reprinted from the Born Free Foundation's website. All pictures are courtesy of the foundation.

It is 48 hours since Tom and Misha were released back into the ocean and they have travelled over 100 miles in the direction of their home waters. So fast in fact that the tracking boat could not keep up!

The team will continue to follow in their wake, using satellite to gain information on their general location (bearing in mind that there are delays with satellite telemetry) and then they will try and hone in with the VHF. See below for a map of their recent positions.

These initial activities are very encouraging but we must remain cautious, there is still a way to go before we know 100 per cent that Tom and Misha have re-adapted fully to life back in the wild.

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 this video.

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 United States, United Kingdom 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.

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.

A Born Free boat monitors the dolphins.

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.”

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, Amy, Mike, Jim, Steve, Robin, Juli, Dan, Trevor, Mark, Sule, and John.

And of course to you, the Born Free supporters.

Read updates about our Hisaronu dolphin project.

See the Hisaronu dolphin project's photo gallery.

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