J.D. van der Toorn (1999-2001)
Cetacean releases

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Joe and Rosie
Echo and Misha
Into the Blue: Rocky, Missie and Silver
Atlantis Marine Park dolphins
Bogie and Bacall
Buck, Luther and Jake
Ariel and Turbo

Note: because the information on Keiko is constantly changing, the paragraph on the release of Keiko has been moved to a separate page, accessible from the menu above.

Ariel and Turbo (Added: Thursday 27th September, 2001)

Ariel and Turbo were 2 of a group of originally 4 dolphins of the Venezuela-based traveling dolphin show Mundo Marino. Reportedly, Ariel and Turbo were captured off the Guatemala coast in August 2000. There are no reports on the location of their capture (not even if it was the Caribbean or the Pacific coast). Mundo Marino had established a home base near Antigua City, Guatemala. Ariel and Turbo were housed there for training and breeding purposes. According to a CSI report, the dolphins were being trained for participation in a Swim-With-The-Dolphins project at Divers World on Margarita Island, Venezuela. After doubts were raised about the validity of the owners' permits, the facility was abandoned and Ariel and Turbo were left behind. The National Council of Protected Areas (CONAP) seized the animals and the local organization MadreSelva, together with the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA), took over the care for the dolphins and prepared a release program. The WSPA asked Ric O'Barry to assist in the release. On July 12th, 2001, the dolphins were airlifted to a sea pen at Puerto Barrios on the Caribbean coast. At the time, Ariel was believed to be pregnant, although this has not been confirmed.

According to a message on a private site, the dolphins were marked (presumably freeze-branded) on their dorsal fin. This has not been confirmed in other news items. Ariel and Turbo were released on August 31, 2001. There are to date no reports of sightings (confirmed or otherwise).


Guatemala Dolphins
News item on: Pam's For the Love of Whales (private site)
Captive Dolphins Returned to Sea
Animal News Center - 15 September 2001
Two abused, abandoned dolphins rescued in Guatemala
ENN - 25 July 2001
CSI Whales Alive! Vol. X No. 3 Captivity Report
Cetacean Society International - July 2001

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To date, only one release has been both successful and properly documented (Wells et al, 1998) and this project involved animals that had been in captivity for only a relatively short time (about 2 years). The Welcome Home project (Bogie and Bacall) looked promising, but since the fences were cut prematurely, the fate of Bogie and Bacall remains unknown. So far, the Keiko project, despite some apparent conflicts of interest, seems to be going in the right direction. Keiko has been relocated to Iceland, in the general area of his capture location (although his current location is at least 200 km from his capture site) and the recent information that work is being done on satellite tracking devices indicates that a proper follow-up is at least being planned. If this trend continues, Keiko's release might be the third release that is properly documented and only the second involving an animal that has been in captivity for a long time. However, to date Keiko has not joined a wild orca pod, despite extensive exposure to wild orcas over the past years.

With this in mind, it is obvious that the release of cetaceans should still be considered an experiment. To date there is no evidence that releasing long-term captive cetaceans is benefiting the animals involved. Most of the animals that might be available for release are not members of an endangered species nor do they come from depleted stocks. Therefore, releasing captive cetaceans does not have any conservation value. At best, such releases can be seen as experiments, as a learning process. For that reason, it is imperative that the following criteria be met in such release attempts:

  1. Animals should be released as close as possible to their original capture site and preferably near the pod from which they were taken.
  2. The animals should be properly prepared for the release, which means that they are in good physical condition (verified by qualified marine mammal veterinarians) and have shown to be able to fend for themselves. In addition, it must be demonstrated that the animals are no longer focussed on people as a source of food.
  3. A proper follow-up must be prepared, which should ensure that the animals can be located for at least several months post-release.
  4. A fallback plan must be in place, so that the animals can be recaptured and taken care of in case they do not do well after the release. Obvious signals that should prompt intervention are significant weight-loss, lack of integration in the local population and focus on people.

Because a release project requires a lot of time, dedication and resources, it is not a feasible option for managing surplus dolphins (Brill and Friedl, 1993). Sea Shepherd foreman Paul Watson even argues, that high profile campaigns for the release of named individuals divert attention away from major environmental issues, such as bycatches, large-scale directed fisheries and pollution (Watson, 1999). At the same time, a number of campaigns, directed at releasing individuals are underway.


R.L.Brill, W.A. Friedl (1993)
Reintroduction to the Wild as an Option for Managing Navy Marine Mammals
NCCOSC, RDT&E Division (NRaD) Technical Report 1549
P. Watson (1999)
The cult of whale and dolphin celebrity
Ocean Realm, Summer 1999, pp. 52-55
R.S. Wells, K. Bassos-Hull and K.S. Norris (1998)
Experimental return to the wild of two bottlenose dolphins
Marine Mammal Science 14(1): 51-71


Position statement on the release of long-term captive cetaceans
European Association for Aquatic Mammals
Lolita Come Home
Free Lolita Project / Tokitae Foundation

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