Twenty-five years ago, on October 6th 1990, bottlenose dolphins Misha and Echo were successfully returned to their native waters of Tampa Bay after two years under human care. Part of a unique two-part scientific experiment, they were initially collected in Tampa Bay in July 1988 and spent two years at the University of California Santa Cruz’s Long Marine Laboratory where researchers studied their echolocation processing abilities and behavior patterns. Then, as planned prior to collection, they were released back into Tampa Bay after a transition process in a sea pen at Mote Marine Laboratory.
During intensive monitoring over the first year following their release, both Echo and Misha were observed feeding, interacting with other local dolphins, and in general displaying typical behavioral, ranging, and social association patterns, as well as excellent body condition. Echo and Misha split up after the first few months back in the wild but researchers continued to observe both dolphins through opportunistic sightings. Misha had been sighted on 70 days since release along the southeast coastline of Tampa Bay. The last sighting of Misha by SDRP before his carcass was recovered in 2006 was on August 16th, 2005 in the Manatee River, where he was observed with longtime associate, KATT.
Echo’s most recent sighting by the Eckerd College Dolphin Research Program on July 15th, 2015 in the Boca Ciega Bay region of Tampa Bay marks his 60th sighting since release in 1990. The Eckerd research team has observed Echo with many associates since 1997 but one dolphin, DUCK, has been in several repeat sightings since 2002 and was with Echo during his last two sightings in 2014 and 2015. Together the SDRP and ECDP will continue to document Echo’s likely pair-bonding with DUCK, a typical behavior observed in adult male dolphins in the region. If you want to learn more about the details of this successful release see Wells, Bassos-Hull, and Norris 1998 article in Marine Mammal Science, “Experimental Return to the Wild of Two Bottlenose Dolphins”. If you want a more in detailed look at the human side of this release check out Carol Howard’s book “Dolphin Chronicles.”
This article appeared on page 28 in the December 2015 issue of Nicks n Notches.