On September 20th 2013, two coastal dolphins were accidentally trapped in a fisherman’s nets near Santa Marta on the Caribbean Coast.  What could have been a tragedy, however, has developed into a hugely inspiring tale of collaboration and cooperation amongst various organisations and individuals to ensure the wellbeing and eventual safe release of these dolphins back to the wild where they belong.

The dolphins arrived at the Santa Marta aquarium in a terrible condition with bone protruding from their snouts and scratches covering their bodies.  Juan Carlos Ospina, owner of the Santa Marta aquarium, has ensured that since their arrival, the two young dolphins have been given the utmost care and attention in a secluded tank with no public access.  Since Julieth Prieto and her team from the environmental agency of Colombia (CORPAMAG) made the decision that the dolphins needed to be released, all attention has turned on the safest way to do this.

Fernando Trujilo and others from the Omacha Foundation, experts in the conservation of sea mammals, are leading the expedition along with CorpaMag who has a mediating and regulating role; ensuring the welfare of the dolphins and working with local communities to raise awareness and educate people about marine conservation.  The project is a collaboration between environmental organisations, private enterprise and academia, not only in Colombia but also internationally.

The release of the dolphins back to the wild will hopefully take place at the end of April as rain is expected around this time which increases the ecosystem productivity along the coastline and attracts dolphin populations.  Until then many logistics need to be considered.  The most pressing and challenging issue is that of transportation.  Omacha is speaking to experts from around the world for advice on how best to transport the dolphins.  If they can raise the funds for a helicopter trip, it would be favourable over a boat trip as it would only take a fraction of the time and the chance of the dolphins going into shock would be minimised.  However, discussions are ongoing as the team seeks to involve private companies in the mission.

This release will be the first of its kind in Colombia and the first of its kind with this specific species in the world.  These dolphins belong to the Sotalia Guianensis species, listed in the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals as ‘Data Deficient’.

The dolphins will be tagged and tracked by high-tech satellite systems so their behaviour can be monitored to ensure that they are healthy and settling in well to their new surroundings.  The tags measure depth, temperature light level and wet and dry periods.  Their sophisticated technology will allow marine biologists to greatly enhance their knowledge of dolphin behaviour along the Caribbean Coast of Colombia where there are many unanswered questions.

The entire mission will cost USD $10,000, which includes the price of the two tags ($3,500 each), medical care, food for one month and transport costs.  Everyone working on the project is doing so voluntarily so no salaries are being paid.

Until the release date, the Santa Marta aquarium is looking for volunteers to help monitor the dolphins’ behaviour, and checking that they are feeding and reacting to various stimulants which will show, whether or not, they are truly ready to be released back into the wild. Once they are transported to Cispata Bay on the Gulf of Morrosquillo, the team expects to keep them there for a few days to continue to monitor their behaviour.  Once satisfied, the dolphins will be released into the wild to join a colony the Omacha Foundation knows well.

This fantastically positive story is a credit to the hard work of many individuals and organisations and is an example of the collaboration required to ensure our naturally rich and diverse country is protected.  The team working on this project hopes to engage the people of Colombia and demonstrate the importance of collective responsibility in caring for the animals that reside in there seas and rivers of this country.