Every day, team members of the Dolphin Rehabilitation Center in Karimunjawa, Indonisia wait for news of when the first marine mammal participants will be brought to the center.
But no word has come, and the 30 meter-by-30 meter sea pen built for the rehabilitation program remains empty.
“We finished the facilities and got the needed equipment three months ago, so we’ve been ready to accept dolphins that were illegally captured from the area to readapt them to the wild and hopefully reunite them with their families,” said Femke den Haas, a team member and one of the founders of the Jakarta Animal Aid Network (JAAN), which was named the official partner of the Forestry Ministry in running the program.
“There’s no reason to keep them suffering in captivity any longer. It’s up to the forestry department to take the next step and enforce the law.”
Although the reasons for the delays have not been made clear, team member Lincoln O’Barry believes things will fall into place.
“I think once we have dolphins in the sea pen, and the government sees the benefit and the positive publicity they’ll get, things will start to snowball a lot quicker, but we just need to get over that first push,” said O’Barry, who has assisted in the rehabilitation and release of dolphins in a dozen other countries.
The center in Karimunjawa is the first permanent facility in the world to rehabilitate and release dolphins back into the wild. O’Barry said the other sea pens constructed abroad were only temporary and were dismantled after the dolphins’ release due to their low numbers.
“Since dozens of dolphins are kept illegally in captivity [here], which is also stated clearly in the MOU signed between JAAN and the Forestry Ministry, there is a need for permanent rehabilitation facilities here,” den Haas said.
A five-year MOU to protect dolphins was signed in November 2010 between Forestry Ministry officials and the JAAN team.
The sea pen, which stands about 50 meters from shore, is made with imported polyester netting fastened securely to the sea floor 3.5 meters deep, and is intended for long-term use.
“It can hold up to six to 10 dolphins, although we want to select dolphins that we can let go as a group,” said O’Barry, who helped build the pen.
“Nothing has ever been attempted anywhere like this where a permanent facility is built for so many dolphins on such a big scale and it will be a constant revolving door for dolphins released back into the wild,” he said.
The design is based on well-known dolphin advocate Ric O’Barry’s 45 years of experience in rehabilitating dolphins before their release.
Biologist and JAAN wildlife rehabilitation specialist, Benvika, who, like many Indonesians, goes by one name, said there were important reasons why the rehabilitation process provides captive animals with a fair chance to survive back in the wild.
“The dolphins need time to readapt to life in the sea after spending more than a year and a half in a tiny pool. They need to regain their hunting skills and echolocation (biosonar) capabilities; these all need to be developed and brought back up to normal levels again,” Benvika said.
The rehabilitation center in Karimunjawa follows the protocols for rehabilitation, and tossing dolphins straight back into the sea is against international standards and against their welfare and well-being, said den Haas.
The center’s team comprises American dolphin expert and filmmaker Lincoln O’Barry and his father, former dolphin trainer turned activist Ric O’Barry, who last year won an Academy Award for Best Documentary with his movie, The Cove, members of the JAAN team and its volunteers, a local support network, as well as two veterinarians and two biologists.
The dolphin rehabilitation and release program at the center is under the jurisdiction of the Directorate General of Forest Protection and Nature Conservation of the Indonesian Ministry of Forestry (PHKA) and is run by their official partners, JAAN, the National Park of Karimunjawa (Balai Taman Nasional Karimun Jawa BTN) and program sponsors, the Earth Island Institute (EII).
Source: Jakarta Post