Rescued from death’s door and the confines of a filthy festering swimming pool in Hisaronu, Turkey, nearly two years of careful care and preparation finally reached a stunning climax this week when the gate to their sea pen was opened for the first time and two dolphins were released.
Opening Tom and Misha’s gateway to freedom was the founder of the Born Free Foundation legendary British actress and wildlife campaigner Virginia McKenna, OBE, who starred in the film “Born Free.”
McKenna, deeply moved by the experience, said, ““We could hardly believe it. All of the months of planning by Born Free and 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 gleaming Aegean Sea, sandy bays and rocky inlets of the small protected area in Karaka, off the southwest coast of Turkey, where the release took place, are a stark contrast to the contaminated and condemned pool that the dolphins were rescued from.
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.
Foster 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 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 traveled 4.2 nautical miles, hugging the coast before heading out to sea where they were later seen interacting with a wild dolphin.
Reportedly captured from the wild off the provincial port of Ismir some six or seven 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.
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.”
McKenna added, “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 this dramatic rescue, rehabilitation, and release story 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 United Kingdom since 1991.
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.”
The Born Free Foundation is a dynamic international wildlife charity, devoted to compassionate conservation and animal welfare. Born Free takes action worldwide to protect threatened species and stop individual animal suffering. Born Free believes wildlife belongs in the wild and works to phase out zoos. We rescue animals from lives of misery in tiny cages and give them lifetime care. Born Free protects lions, elephants, tigers, gorillas, wolves, polar bears, dolphins, marine turtles and many more species in their natural habitat, working with local communities to help people and wildlife live together without conflict. Our high-profile campaigns change public attitudes, persuade decision-makers and get results. Every year, Born Free helps hundreds of thousands of animals worldwide.
Born Free USA is a nationally recognized leader in animal welfare and wildlife conservation. Through litigation, legislation and public education, Born Free USA leads vital campaigns against animals in entertainment, exotic “pets,” trapping and fur, and the destructive international wildlife trade. Born Free USA brings to the United States the message of “compassionate conservation” — the vision of the United Kingdom-based Born Free Foundation, established in 1984 by Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna, stars of the iconic film “Born Free,” along with their son Will Travers, now chief executive officer of both organizations. Born Free’s mission is to end suffering of wild animals in captivity, conserve threatened and endangered species, and encourage compassionate conservation globally.
Media Contact: Rodi Rosensweig, firstname.lastname@example.org, (203) 270-8929.