In a heartwarming tale of flippered perseverance, a dolphin captured and held for several years in captivity is back with her family this week after escaping from her pen and seeking out her old pod.
The dolphin, named Sampal, was first caught by fishermen off Jeju Island, near South Korea, according to environmental blog Take Part, which has been following the dolphin's story.
Fishermen then illegally sold Sampal to the Pacific Land Aquarium, where she spent years being forced to perform tricks in order to eat. Ten other dolphins were also at the facility.
"These dolphins are being kept in abysmal conditions, with barely enough room to dive in their cramped tank," Ric O’Barry, director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project, previously told Earth Island Journal. "They are good candidates for release and so they should be returned to the ocean.”
O’Barry, who had been asked to observe the dolphins by the Korean Animal Welfare Association, helped push the aquarium to give up the dolphins, which were then sent for rehabilitation.
"[The surviving dolphins] are now back in their home range, in a temporary sea pen, and I have every reason to believe they know exactly what to do once they are released back to their original water," O'Barry said in June, according to the Dolphin Project.
Apparently impatient to rejoin the open sea, Sampal escaped her temporary sea pen on June 22 ahead of her scheduled release.
Although her abrupt departure worried some, on June 27 members of the Cetacean Research Institute spotted her with swimming the very same pod of dolphins from which she was taken four years before.
“I think the others will do fine once they are released too,” Ric O'Barry told Take Part. “They know exactly what to do; they just need the opportunity to do it.”