Tom and Misha, the two bottle-nosed dolphins held captive for four years are finally heading back to the sea.

In a long and often dramatic rescue mission organized by the Dolphin Angels, wildlife charity Born Free and SAD/DEMAG, following HDN’s story earlier this March the dolphin park in Hisarönü, Ölüdeniz has now been closed and the dolphins rescued, in what has proved to be a powerful and so far successful campaign.

Businessman Alexandr Kuznetzov and his group of investors rented land in the resort of Hisarönü from the Ölüdeniz Municipality mayor Keramettin Yılmaz. They proceeded to build a small pool, and in May brought the two dolphins from Kaş in the back of a vegetable truck. Since then they have been selling £50 tickets with several local tour operators, to swim with Tom and Misha, in the bacteria infected water.

Since the story broke in March, a group collectedly known as the Dolphin Angels has been working to have the pool closed and the dolphins released. Lawyer Şule Beder said, “Captivity is unacceptable for dolphins. We simply cannot stand by and allow this kind of exploitation to happen. For months we have been determined to send them back to the wild where they belong. The shabby pool is no place for these wonderful creatures.”

Negotiations with the facility’s owners and the local authority finally secured a license for the two NGOs to care for the dolphins.

Together with marine experts John Knight and Doug Cartlidge and a team from British Divers Marine Life Rescue, plans have been made to move the dolphins to a special sea reserve where they will be rehabilitated and eventually released into the wild.

Born Free were on Sunday awaiting the final paperwork to secure their permanent release. The move to a location off the south coast of Turkey will take five hours, a journey that may further damage the dolphins’ health.

But vet Mr. Knight believes it is a risk worth taking. He said: “Despite the conditions, it is testimony to their natural strength they have survived so far. I am reasonably confident we can pull it off but a move from a place like this will always carry risks.”

The campaign to save the animals was started by a group of British expats and Turks who organized protest marches and lobbied the Turkish government. Calling themselves the Dolphin Angels, they marched against the Dolphin Park and persuaded travel companies to boycott it.

Spokesperson, Nichola Chapman, said, “This has been an intense but effective campaign but we will only feel truly happy when they are finally back in the wild. This shows how much can be achieved by a collaborative effort and people working together across the world with one collective aim: a real testament to the power of the people. With modern communications and clears aims, we have shown what can be achieved.”

Lesley Robinson, Cath and Can İnanur, Dawne and Meral Büyük, Doğan Eraslan and many others have worked tirelessly to rescue Tom and Misha; with the backing of more than 21,000 members of the ‘Free the Ölüdeniz Dolphins’ Facebook group, created by Joanne Davies and the Calış Beach Forum.

An emotional Lesley Robinson said, “This has been an amazing journey for us all, with so many ups and downs, like a roller coaster. Now the dolphins’ own journey back to freedom has begun. There will be many more months of hard work but the experts are now there to help Tom and Misha recover their strength.”

Erdem Danyer and his assistant Işıl Aytemiz, two young and dedicated vets have been working together with the British team of experts and together they will increase the previously limited knowledge of dolphins in Turkey, together with their care and rehabilitation. “This is a great chance for us to work with real world experts and increase our knowledge about this rehabilitation and care of dolphins. This will be very useful for us in the future. It is a great opportunity for Turkey.”

Tom and Misha’s mood seemed to improve yesterday as rescuers prepared their equipment in Fethiye. And in what must only be a lucky omen, a pod of wild dolphins swam over to greet them.

For charity Born Free and Dolphin Angels their hard work is not over. They are appealing for donations to help fund the rescue, which will cost the charity £150,000.

On Friday 10 September there will be a jazz fund raising evening at Aksazlar Beach Club in Fethiye to help with the rehabilitation and education programs. This is the first jazz concert will be held in Fethiye and the organizers are hoping this will be an opportunity for celebration – see the article on Fethiye Times here for more information.

On 3rd October at The Winehouse, in Üzümlü Fethiye, there will be an auction of a specially commissioned oil painting by the well-known and highly respected British artist Ben Maile.

If you want to contribute to Tom and Misha’s rescue fund, visit www.bornfree.org.uk

For more information on Jazz at Aksaz call Şemsi Toprak on 05324752463

For further information about the Ben Maile painting auction call the Winehouse in Üzümlü on 0090 252 6622025

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