Sampal, the dolphin that lived in captivity, is now free and has a calf

The sighting of Sampal off the coast of South Korea confirms that reintroduced dolphins can survive, breed and have a family.

The story of Sampal started in the early 2000s when she was captured by the Pacific Land, one of the three aquariums with dolphins of South Korea. In 2013 South Korea’s Supreme Court, with the help of some activists, decided that Sampal and three other dolphins must be released back into the wild.


Sampal was photographed with her calf © Soojin Jang/Mi Yeon Kim

Reintroduction and naturalisation, which saw the participation of Dolphin Project founder Rick O’Berry, started. After this period Sampal, along with Chunsan and Jedol, was released into the wild. And in late March of this year researcher Mi Yeon Kim noticed in a pod of about 55 dolphins, the unique back fin of Sampal. And, surprisingly, she was with her calf.


The reintroduction of the dolphin was effective

Today the dolphin is about 13-15 years old, has spent four years in the aquarium with dolphins and was freed three years ago. “We now have a solid example of not only a successful release of a dolphin back into the wild to her pod, but the successful birth of her offspring after years in captivity”, director and founder of the Wild Dolphin Project Denise Herzing told the National Geographic.


dolphin sampal
A shot of Sampal taken in 2014. © Dr. Kim e Korean Animal Welfare Association


This is an evidence that the reintroduction was successful and that it also helped create a next generation of wild dolphins. The calf and Sampal, indeed, were spotted in a pod. But there’s more: Sampal and Chunsam (a 5 year older female dolphin) are often seen together, continuing a connection that was established in the Pacific Land aquarium.


“This is not to say that all captive dolphins can or should be returned to their natural homes. But all captive dolphins may be re-adapted to a more natural environment”, states O’Berry in the NGO’s website.


Korean researchers who are observing the group of dolphins reported that the reintroduced specimens swim, surf, hunt and mate and that “they are able to keep up with the wild individuals”.


Cover image © Joe Raedle / Getty Images

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