Just a year ago, Rambo was kept in shallow, chlorinated pool in an Indonesian hotel on the island of Bali. He was forced to entertain visitors from around the world by jumping through hoops.
Now, the bottlenose dolphin is swimming freely after being brought to what organizers say is the world’s first permanent rehabilitation center for dolphins, the Bali Dolphin Sanctuary.
“It’s a model. It can be duplicated. And we’re trying to do that in Europe as well, in Italy and in Crete,” said Ric O’Barry, an animal rights activist and founder of the Dolphin Project, the charity that runs the center.
With the help of Indonesian authorities, activists rescued four dolphins last year and brought them to the center in a bay on the tropical island for treatment.
Returning dolphins to the wild depends on their health and ability to catch food and interact with other dolphins.
“Often they switch off the sonar when they are kept in captivity, so that’s one of the main tasks of the team here to prepare them for their life in the wild,” said Femke Den Haas, who runs the rehabilitation center. Dolphins use sonar to navigate in the ocean and also to communicate with each other.
More than 3,000 dolphins are in captivity around the world as part of an entertainment industry that generates up to $5.5 billion annually, a 2019 report by World Animal Protection says.
In the past, O’Barry (80) trained dolphins used in the TV series ‘Flipper’. He then had a change of heart about keeping dolphins in captivity and started fighting for their freedom. He was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” about the capture and slaughter of dolphins in Japan.
“There are hundreds of activists working on this issue now. When I started doing this 50 years ago, people thought I was crazy,” said O’Barry.