Successful release in Korea: captive dolphins now have babies in the wild

This is the story of the successful release of captive dolphins in Korea who later became moms in the wild. Sampal, Chunsam, and Boksoon were captive indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins at an entertainment park in Korea. They were released off of Jeju Island between 2013 and 2015. The three babies were born in April 2016, August 2016, and August 2018. Find out more about their incredible journey in this post.

Eleven dolphins were illegally caught and sold to an entertainment park in Korea

Between 2009 and 2010, fishers stole eleven dolphins out of the pod of indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins that lives around Jeju Islands (120+ individuals). They then sold the dolphins to Jeju’s Pacific Land theme park. We could not find much information on what happened exactly, but we know that only five out of the eleven dolphins survived.

Trial and release efforts

Following a public and NGO (including the Korean Animal Welfare Association) outcry, a trial started to decide the fate of the five remaining dolphins. In March 2013, the supreme court ruled in favor of the captive dolphins’ release from Jeju’s Pacific Land park. Additionally, both the president and director of the park went to prison for 8 months and had to pay a ~USD10,000 fine. It was the first case of its kind in Korea. Then, the mayor of Seoul also decided to release Jedol, a male dolphin from Seoul Grand Zoo, after discovering the dolphin came from Jeju’s Pacific Land park. Indeed, Jedol, too, had been caught illegally.

Chunsam and Sampal’s release

After mobilizing almost a million USD, both the mayor of Seoul and the Korean Welfare Association started the ambitious release project. Chunsam and Sampal were held at Jeju’s Pacific Land theme park. They were the first dolphins, along with Jedol from the Seoul Grand Zoo, to swim free. The theme park released them in July 2013. Unfortunately, the entertainment park could not free all five dolphins at the time because both Boksoon and Taesan were too ill to survive in the wild.

For the fun little anecdote, Sampal escaped her sea pen before the dolphins were officially set free! What a rebel!

Boksoon’s release

Boksoon and Taesan, a male indo-pacific bottlenose dolphin, followed the other dolphins to the sea in July 2015; two years later. The team in charge of their release first put them in sea pens, which are like closed pools in the sea. This step ensures the dolphins gradually adapt to their natural habitat. It only took two months for the two dolphins to adapt to the sea. After they were set free, they returned to their pod.

Baby boom in Korean waters

The good news does not stop here. After their successful reintroduction into their natural habitat, the three females had babies in their new environment! Sampal was the first dolphin to give birth to her baby in April 2016. She was quickly followed by Chunsam, who gave birth in August 2016. Boksoon was the last female in the captive group to have her baby in August 2018. This wonderful news shows that releasing dolphins into their environment can be successful if done correctly! The five ex-captive dolphins (three females and two males) have now fully integrated the pod and live like their relatives, free at last! Sampal and Chunsam, who were already close in captivity, and had their babies four months apart, are still close in their new home.

Why stop at five dolphins?

There are approximately 3000 captive dolphins around the world. However, not all of them can survive a release either because they have been injured or have spent too long in captivity. So what if we released all the ones that could survive in the wild? Would not that be great? What are your thoughts? Let us know in the comment section.

Sources and further reading:

Did you like this post on captive dolphins release? Check out our content on Hvaldimir, the ex-captive beluga whale now swimming freely in Northern Norway:

Is this beluga whale a Russian spy?

Anaïs is the founder of Whale Scientists. She is a PhD student at McGill University working on killer whale ecology and pollution. You can read more about her here.

2 thoughts on “Successful release in Korea: captive dolphins now have babies in the wild”

  1. These were short term captives caught as adults. Not prototypical of most situations. It would also likely be a violation of the MMPA to release a North American cetacean.

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