We always knew that dolphins were incredible, but this story made our jaws drop – a dolphin, captured and held in captivity for several years, escaped from her pen and reunited with her pod. The dolphin, named Sampal, was accidentally caught by fishermen off Jeju Island, near South Korea, as reported by the environmental blog Take Part, which has been charting this epic tale. Instead of being released, however, Sampal was then illegally sold by fishermen to the Pacific Land Aquarium, where she was forced for years to perform tricks for food.
Sampal was joined by ten other dolphins at the Aquarium, and lived in disturbing conditions: “These dolphins are being kept in abysmal conditions, with barely enough room to dive in their cramped tank,” explained Ric O’Barry, director of Earth Institute’s Dolphin Project and subject of the Academy Award-winning film about the yearly dolphin drive hunting in Taiji, Japan, The Cove. “They are good candidates for release and so they should be returned to the ocean,” O’Barry told Earth Island Journal.
O’Barry had been asked to observe the dolphins by the Korean Animal Welfare Association, and pushed the aquarium to release the dolphins. About a year ago, thanks to the work of individuals like O’Barry and Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, Sampal and two of her companions were ordered by the Korean High Court to be returned to their home waters. The aquarium acquiesced, and sent the dolphins for rehabilitation. As O’Barry explained in June, “[The surviving dolphins] are now back in their home range, in a temporary sea pen…They need to be un-trained what they learned at Pacific Land and retaught how to live in the ocean…[but] I have every reason to believe they know exactly what to do once they are released back to their original water.” The dolphins were set to be released back into the wild later this summer.
Sampal could not wait any longer to return home, however: On June 22, she escaped her temporary sea pen, fleeing via a tear in the netting of the pen. Although she fled before trainers could implant tracking devices, Sampal was spotted just five days later, 100 kilometers away from the sea pen and swimming with a pod of about 50 dolphins — the very same pod of dolphins from which she was captured four years ago!
O’Barry was unsurprised to hear that Sampal was flourishing after her escape, “I think the others will do fine once they are released too. They know exactly what to do, they just need the opportunity to do it.”
Sampal’s amazing story reminds us that dolphins are incredibly clever and adroit creatures. Unfortunately, however, dolphins and other marine mammals continue to be threatened around the world, and even close to home – proposed seismic airgun testing in the Atlantic Ocean will deafen or kill over 138,000 dolphins and whales along the East Coast of the U.S. However, we can do something to stop this. Please sign our petition to reject seismic airgun testing and give thousands of dolphins like Sampal a chance at a full and healthy life.