It was the moment they had all been waiting for.
After 18 months of rehabilitation, Tom and Misha, the two male bottlenose dolphins who were rescued in an emergency mission from a polluted, inadequate swimming pool-style structure in Turkey, by the animal welfare foundation, Born Free, and campaigners, Dolphin Angels, were finally released into their natural habitat, the Aegean Sea.
Investigator Donal Macintyre, who had originally helped negotiate the dolphins” move to a rehabilitation sea pen, and his wife Ameera, were there to witness Tom and Misha”s first taste of freedom.
“It was such an emotional sight to behold,” says Ameera, 35, in an exclusive interview with !.
“When the drawbridge was first pulled up, the dolphins were diffident and seemed nervous, but as soon as Tom swam away, Misha followed. They zoomed into the blue like silver torpedoes and didn”t look back for five miles.
“The Aegean sea never looked more beautiful. They must have felt the cool water, tasted the salt and savoured the contrast with the toxic pool where they had been kept after they were captured two years ago.
“There were tears,” she continues, “but we tried to keep our emotions in check until the dolphins left the area. Dolphins are hypersensitive creatures and we didn”t want them to be distracted by our feelings. It was their day. “So many people made it possible and we all shared in the joy.”
Donal and Ameera became involved in the “Back to the Blue” project after Born Free received complaints via its Travellers Animal Alert! campaign about the distressing state in which these two dolphins were being kept in Hisaronu, south-east Turkey.
Together with its patron, Coronation Street actress Helen Worth, Born Free carried out investigations and Donal was brought in to negotiate the dolphins” release and transfer of ownership to Born Free.
After a boycott of the dolphinarium by major international tour operators, the ailing dolphins were transferred to a special sea pen in a secret location, where they spent the next 18 months being nursed back to health and learning to catch fish and fend for themselves again.
“When we first saw them, they were lilting and their internal balance mechanisms were out of sync,” says Ameera. “By the time of their release, they were fit and muscular.”
With the agencies and individuals who had made it possible, Donal and Ameera followed Tom and Misha”s progress in a boat out of the bay after they were freed to explore the deep ocean again.
“We saw them cresting the waves and dancing in the wild,” says Ameera. “They travelled about 30-40 miles in the first day, which is a lot for a dolphin. We understand they met another dolphin on the way, and that Tom was seen with a great big fish in his mouth. It”s so reassuring to know that they”re using their relearned skills for hunting.
“After their release, we phoned home to tell our children – Allegra, Tiger and baby Hunter – what had happened. They were delighted as it has become their story too and a family crusade.
“We all hope to see Tom and Misha again,” she adds. “They”re tagged and micro-chipped, so we hope we can monitor them by satellite.
“But I hope they forget about us and embark on their new lives. The last we heard they were heading home to where they were initially caught near Izmir. It”s lovely to think of them being reunited with their pod.”
(Ameera has asked to thank Thomas Cook for all their support www.flythomascook.com)