EXPERIMENTAL RETURN TO THE WILD OF TWO BOTTLENOSE DOLPHINS

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Abstract

In the first scientific experiment of its kind, two young male bottlenose dolphins (Tursiops truncatus) were captured in Tampa Bay, Florida, and then returned to the wild at the same locale in October 1990, after two years in captivity. The dolphins' age/sex class and the capture and release site were selected prior to their collection. The ranging and social association patterns of the host community were examined prior to, and, including the two animals, after release. The dolphins remained together for the first month, then began interacting more with other dolphins and less with each other. Within the first year, one dolphin returned to the waters near his capture site and has remained there at least through September 1993. The other dolphin has remained in his original home range at least through June 1996. Observations of each dolphin have shown them to be fully integrated into the local dolphin societies. They displayed typical behavioral, ranging, and social association patterns. Their body condition has been excellent at each observation. They have not been observed interacting with humans. The apparent success of this experiment cannot necessarily be generalized to all potential candidates for return to the wild, but the results can be used to guide future experiments.

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