On Oct. 6, 1990, bottlenose dolphins Misha and Echo were successfully returned to their native waters of Tampa Bay after two years in 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. Since 1991 opportunistic sightings of these two dolphins were recorded in Sarasota Bay and Tampa Bay during photo-ID surveys through collaborative efforts of SDRPand the Eckerd College Dolphin Research Program (ECDP). The regional GOMDIS catalog was also checked for potential out-of-area emigration and stranding. Misha was sighted on 70 days since release, with a total of 110 different associates, in southeast Tampa Bay (before his death from unknown causes in 2006). Echo was sighted on 60 days since release, with a total of 99 different associates, in three different regions of Tampa Bay; his most recent sighting by ECDP was in July 2015.
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.”
— By Kim Bassos-Hull