Rescued Dolphins’ First Week of Freedom
One week ago, history was made with the release of rescued dolphins Johnny, Rocky and Rambo. While their time may have ended at the Umah Lumba Rehabilitation, Release and Retirement Center – the first and only permanent dolphin rehabilitation, release and retirement facility for formerly performing dolphins – their journey is only beginning.
From the moment the dolphins swam out of their sea pen and into open water, we have been receiving daily Argos location data on all three cetaceans. On day one, they remained together. However, on day two, the dolphins split up: Johnny and Rambo stayed together, while Rocky swam in another direction. This is not a surprise to us as Rocky was always somewhat independent.
Using a combination of satellite tracking, long (camera) lenses and drones, our team has been working to ensure the dolphins’ overall health and weight are being maintained. On a daily basis, we have been able to visually identify Johnny and Rambo on the northern side of Bali, in an area abundant with schooling fish and squid, which form a part of their diet. As per Dolphin Project’s Protocol for Releasing Captive Dolphins, we are maintaining a proper distance from them, as not to interfere with their behavior. At this point, all appears normal and we couldn’t be happier.
From Argos satellite tracking data, Rocky also appears healthy. He has been swimming long distances, and is in a different area of Indonesia. We have a team enroute to his location and hope to provide photos of him soon.
It’s not unusual that the group has split up. Three adult males would be less likely to join the same pod, however, a single dolphin might. It’s possible that on his own, Rocky may have already joined another pod.
We remain committed to tracking the dolphins for up to one year. The first 90 days are critical, as they adjust to their new lives. Billboards and signage have been erected, along with socialization meetings amongst fishermen and boat captains. A hotline has been established so location information where the dolphins have been sighted can be reported. For their protection, exact location coordinates will not be shared.
How are the dolphins being tracked?
Each dolphin is equipped with an Argos satellite tracking device, which could provide location data for a period of up to one year. On marine mammals that surface very infrequently, conventional GPS modules will not work as the tags are only above the water for a fraction of a second. The Argos transmitters however, are designed to upload short duration messages (of less than one second) each time the dolphin surfaces. If there is an Argos satellite overhead at that time and multiple uplinks are received in short succession, a location estimate can be obtained.
The Argos satellite system consists of only seven polar orbiting satellites. Because they are fewer in number, along with being in a specific polar orbit, the closer one is to the equator (with Bali being very close), the less coverage there is. During these periods of coverage, the dolphins’ dorsal fins need to come out of the water a few times within a short window in order for the satellites to pick up their track. So while your GPS-enabled smartphone phone is typically accurate to within approximately 5 meters, Argos accuracy (depending on the number of uplinks received), is somewhere between 200 and 1500 meters, while still providing excellent coverage.
Location data relies on a perfect combination of events:
1. A satellite must be overhead
2. The tag and animal must be at the surface
3. The tag must be allowed to transmit
4. Multiple uplinks must be received during a single satellite pass (ideally 3+)
When we get a ping from the satellite, our tracking team heads to the general vicinity of where they have been located. If on land or boat, our team utilizes a hand-held antenna attached to a VHF receiver, along with donning a pair of headphones. The closer we get to the dolphins, our antenna creates a loud, clicking sound. The further away we get, the quieter the sound. This helps triangulate their precise location so we can get a good visual on them.
We are optimistic that the battery life of the tags will last around 8 to 10 months with our current settings. Tag retention depends on individual behaviour and how well the tags were attached plus many other variables. Without trying to sound silly, the answer could lie somewhere between several days to 10 months.
There are many potential variables that could affect how long the physical tags last:
- Battery life, and factors that affect the battery (weather/temperature, number of transmissions, etc.)
- Physical damage from animal behavior
- Excessive biofouling (accumulation of microorganisms) on the tag
- Attachment failure, the tag naturally migrates or the pin corrodes after a period of time due mechanical and/or chemical stresses
- Adverse weather and sea conditions
- Damaged antenna preventing successful transmissions
- Natural (predation) or anthropogenic mortality such as boat strikes or entanglement in nets by commercial or recreational fishermen
- Any other unknowns
For more information, visit our Release FAQ page.
Please follow our social media for updates on Johnny, Rocky and Rambo.
How you can help
While we hope that Johnny, Rocky and Rambo will return to their natural life as wild and free ranging mammals, our floating seapens will always remain open and be fully staffed, should they choose to return for a short while, or decide to make the Umah Lumba Center their permanent home. Work also needs to be completed so that the Umah Lumba Center will be ready to accept more dolphins in need. Costs are actually greater post-release than the readapation work itself. While monies are not being spent for feeding (approximately $3000 monthly), gasoline for the boats monitoring the dolphins, along with digital tracking costs are projected to be between $7500 and $10,000 monthly. Please CLICK HERE to donate.
The Umah Lumba Rehabilitation, Release and Retirement Center and Camp Lumba Lumba Readaptation and Release Center form an incredible partnership with the Ministry of Environment and Forestry of the Republic of Indonesia, BKSDA Bali, Dolphin Project, Jakarta Animal Aid Network, Karimunjawa National Park and the West Bali National Park. Together, we built the Umah Lumba Center, the world’s first and only permanent dolphin rehabilitation, release and retirement facility for previously captive dolphins and Camp Lumba Lumba, the world’s first permanent facility dedicated to the readaptation and release of dolphins in Kemujan, Karimun Jawa. Ric O’Barry, Founder/Director of Dolphin Project has pioneered readaptation for captive dolphins and has released a number of dolphins into the wild.