Can Dolphins in Aquariums Survive in the Wild?

Hello, this is Suny. Many dolphins are living on the coasts of Jeju-do (the largest island in Korea and a world famous tourist site), which is why fishermen often incidentally catch (fish accidentally getting caught by a fishnet) dolphins in Jeju-do. The caught dolphins are mostly provided to large aquariums in the nation. The number of dolphins that are caught incidentally and being used in dolphin shows now totals 12. However, because the law requires incidentally caught dolphins to be released immediately, the dolphins used in the dolphin shows in large aquariums must be sent back to the wild. However, it is uncertain whether the dolphins can adapt to the wild again after losing their wildlife instinct by being trained by keepers.

Then, is it really impossible to release the aquarium dolphins back in the wild? It is not. In foreign nations, there are successful cases of releasing the dolphins into the wild. Then, let us take a look at foreign cases.

One example of a successful release was that of ‘Misha’ and ‘Echo,’ dolphins which were captured for research in the coastal waters of Tampa Bay, Florida in July 1988 and were released to the wild after two years in captivity. Famous international articles show that there is no problem for dolphins adapting to the dolphin group in the wild if an orientation training program is sufficiently performed.

Misha and Echo received orientation training from nine months prior to being released into the wild, including, predating on live fish and cutting off all human contact. The dolphins also received a mock exercise in natural environment by being transferred to a place with temporary fences in the width of 9.8m, length of 11.3m, and depth of 2m one month prior to the release. During this period, the two dolphins were successful in their diets by losing fat, improved predating skills and increased curiosity in the world outside the fences.

However, finally on the due date, the two dolphins were found stranded on the coast, not able to go far. This was because the dolphins were not good at finding their way. However, after the research team released the dolphins once more, the dolphins soon actively started to swim, and 15 days after the release to the wild, the two dolphins were discovered playing with other dolphins in a group. Misha and Echo finally were able to return home.

This is an example showing that dolphins that have been in captivity for less than two years are able to return to the wild after orientation training. There are seven dolphins that have been illegally captured in the coastal waters of Jeju-do in the last two years which are still living. As a famous precedent shows, I think that these seven dolphins, which are used in dolphin shows after being illegally captured, should receive sufficient orientation training and be released to their home, just like Misha and Echo.