After six years in a disgusting, insanitary pool at a dingy resort in Turkey, where tourists paid to swim with them, Misha and Tom will soon be free. (Update May 9th: It’s done, they’re free!)
Tom and Misha were rescued two years ago by the British wildlife charity Born Free, which found that the pool where they were living had such a high bacterial count that it was a significant health hazard not just to the dolphins, but to the tourists who were paying to swim with them.
“The water was filthy with feces and dead fish and a layer of sludge at the bottom,” said Shirley Galligan of Born Free. Their pool was located next to bars that stayed open late with music blaring into the night.
People who had seen the dolphins began complaining, and soon a large Facebook campaign was underway, with international newspapers reporting on the plight of Tom and Misha, and demonstrations being held in Hisaronu. Soon, the owner of the pool went AWOL, and a Born Free team was able to negotiate with the property’s creditors for the release of the dolphins.
Soon they were on their to an oceanside sanctuary, getting ready for their release. And their coach is Jeff Foster, who rehabilitated Keiko the orca (of Free Willy fame).
Foster calls Tom and Misha “one of the great release projects of all time,” in that the two dolphins, now somewhere between 12 and 20 years old, have been in captivity for so long. “They’ve lost a lot of their natural instincts, which is what makes this project so unique and pioneering.”
“We cut our teeth on Keiko, which was a hugely expensive and ambitious project,” Foster said. “We learned from that experience and this enabled us to go on and successfully release Springer, another orca.”
Foster and his team have been working with the two dolphins for more than a year now, showing them how to catch fish on their own.
“At first, we had thousands of fish in the pen, and they just wouldn’t look at them,” he said. “They’d been so used to being hand-fed that they didn’t recognize fish as a food source.”
Any day now, Tom and Misha will be released into the Mediterranean. But it won’t all be plain sailing for them. They’ll face a multitude of hazards from fishing boats and their nets, from pollution and from noise. Still, they’ll be wearing satellite tags so that Foster and the Born Free Foundation can keep tabs on them.
Dolphins are highly social animals, and if the pair are fortunate, they’ll meet up with a pod of dolphins that they’ll be able to join. But whatever happens, they’ll be living the life that nature intended for them – insofar as they can steer clear of human interference.
Here’s a video from CNN: