In 2013, Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon made the decision to call for the release of illegally captured dolphins from the Seoul Zoo.The dolphins had been caught unlawfully from the waters surrounding Jeju Island in South Korea. They had spent years in captivity, languishing in the terrible conditions at Pacificland Aquarium and the Seoul Zoo. As Ric put it, “These three dolphins lived in the wild very successfully for about ten years before they were abducted by aliens and forced into a life of show business inside a building.”
Working with the Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA), Ric provided consulting services in line with the Dolphin Release Protocol to assist the Korean crew with preparing Jedol, Sampal and Chunsan for release to their native waters. In May 2013, the dolphins were transferred back to the sea. A repurposed fish farm was used as a temporary sea pen, as the dolphins were weaned off of dead fish and retrained to catch live ones for themselves in preparation to survive on their own at sea.
One of the biggest lies being told by the likes of SeaWorld and others in the dolphin abusement industry is that dolphins in captivity can never be released back into the wild. -Ric O’Barry
The efforts proved an enormous success; Sampal actually decided the sea pen was too confining and escaped through a hole in the net early in June. Jedol and Chunsan were released after a few months in July 2013. In April 2014, Jedol and Sampal were observed in the waters off Jeju Island, each being positively identified by freeze brands that had been applied to their dorsal fins during the rehabilitation phase.
The good news continued two years later, when in April of 2016 a team from the Dolphin Research Group of Jeju University/Ewha Womans University confirmed that Sampal has successfully given birth, noting that strict criteria proved the pair to be mother and calf.
Not to be outdone, Chunsam was also spotted with her own calf several months later in the region.
These births and repeat sightings strongly demonstrate that not only is rehabilitation and release a viable option for certain captive dolphins, but that those who return to their natural home can thrive and flourish.
Additionally, after 20 years of captivity, two additional male Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, Geumdeung and Daepo, held at Seoul Grand Park in Seoul, were successfully released to their native waters around Jeju Island in July 2017.