Over the weekend, there were emotional scenes in North Bali as conservation agencies released three rescued Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins into the open ocean.
The release comes three years after the initial rescue of captive dolphins Johnny, Rocky, and Rambo, from a hotel in North Bali, where they were used in tourist shows. The release effort has been three years in the making and required an unprecedented effort to rehabilitate the trio of dolphins who had lost many of their natural instincts while in captivity.
The trio was released into Banyuwedang Bay, Pejarakan Village, in North Bali. The initial rescue of the dolphins happened on 6th August 2019 after Hotel Melka, where they were kept for the dolphin show, went bankrupt. Five dolphins were rescued from the facility. While Johnny, Rocky, and Rambo were suitably prepared for wild reintegration this week, the other two remain at the rehabilitation facility at Mertasari Beach in Sanur.
The founder of the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), Femke Den Hass, told reporters of the dolphin’s journey to release. She said, ‘The rehabilitation process must be carried out in stages. First, the team must restore the animal’s health condition. Furthermore, dolphins are trained to prey on fish that are still alive. Because while inhabiting the pond, they only eat pieces of fish. Gradually, the feeding was shifted from fish pieces to dead fish. Only recently did we give live fish’. One of the most important parts of the rehabilitation process was reestablishing the dolphin’s wild hunting instincts.
Before the release, wild-born dolphin Johnny required serious veterinary dental work. As a result of living in heavily chlorinated pools and an unnatural diet causing unhealthy amounts of acid reflux, Johnny had lost all of his teeth. During his rehabilitation, Johnny became the alpha of the three males and showed signs of wild prey instinct.
Despite his best efforts to catch wild fish, his lack of teeth was a considerable barrier ahead of his release. As the dominant male in the rehabilitated pod, he needed to be released into the wild with Rambo and Rocky and fulfill his role as alpha.
The Dolphin Project worked with world-renowned veterinarians to create a set of 22-crown dentures in Johnny’s mouth. This successful procedure enabled Johnny to catch fish and was one of the final steps towards the release of the dolphins. This procedure was the first of its kind in the world.
The dolphins were released on Saturday, 3rd September, which was chosen as the perfect day for the event as it aligned with Indonesia’s National Nature Conservation Day. The release was overseen by Indonesia’s Minister for Environment and Forestry, who has been praised for supporting the project. Minister Siti Nurbaya handles all environmental and forestry-related issues in Indonesia and must give the final say on the release or reintegration of any animals, wild or captive-born.
Minister Nurbaya said, ‘This [rehabilitation] process is not easy. It took three years to nurture and regrow wild traits. But this shows that we are committed and working hard to preserve the environment…[they] will be monitored after the wild release, because there is a GPS installed. After a year, the tool will release itself. If this method is successful, it will continue [for other dolphins]’.
In videos shared by the Indonesian Conservation Agency (BKSDA), Minister Nurbaya, JAAN, and the Dolphin Project, the release team can share emotional hugs with each other moments after Rocky, Rambo and Johnny swam out to sea. Minister Nurbaya hugs the teams and thanks them for their hard work while they thank her for her permission and support to complete the project.
Traveling dolphin shows and circuses were officially banned in 2018. The government, in partnership with dozens of conservation and animal welfare organizations, has worked to ensure that the ban remains in place and that the captive dolphins in Indonesia get the care they need. The Dolphin Project works to increase public awareness of the damage captivity and tourist attractions can do to dolphins.
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