Dolphin Reef sends two of its `children' home
Shortly before 8 A.M. yesterday, Shandy and his mother, Pashosh, were lifted out of the clear waters of Eilat's Dolphin Reef - where they were born and had lived till then among other members of their family - and carried carefully to stretchers waiting for them a few meters from the shoreline.
Every now and then, Shandy lifted his upper body and looked at the Reef's trainers with an expression of helplessness on his face. The tranquilizers the two dolphins - had received earlier in the morning appeared to do little to ease their distress.
A few minutes later, the trainers gave the signal, and the stretchers were lifted and carried to a truck waiting at the entrance to the site. Shandy, a 10-year-old male, and Pashosh, a 12-year-old female, born at the Dolphin Reef to parents originally from the Black Sea, were being transferred back to the Black Sea.
The truck pulled off at precisely 8 A.M., carrying the two dolphins, together with Maya and Roni Zilber, the owners of the Dolphin Reef. Accompanying them too was a Russian scientist from the Severtsov Russian Academy of Science who will follow the two dolphins' return to the Black Sea.
Shandy and Pashosh flew yesterday from Eilat to the Utrish Biological Research Station at the Black Sea, where they will meet a pair of local dolphins. After a stay of about one month at the research station, the four dolphins will be released into the Black Sea.
The decision to fly three dolphins from the Dolphin Reef to the Black Sea stemmed, originally, from the need to solve the personal problem of the dolphin, Lemon. On coming into sexual maturity early, at the age of four, Lemon, like the other young male dolphins at the Reef, ran into trouble with Cindy, the dominant male in the pod who does not allow any other male to mate with the females.
Up until a year ago, the dolphins at the Reef were allowed to come and go as they pleased, to leave the confines of the Reef's pools and swim in the open sea, and this arrangement eased the distress of the young males. Over the past year, however, as a result of inappropriate behavior of people toward the marine environment and the dolphins, the Reef was forced to close the gate and to limit the dolphins' ability to go out to the open sea.
This led to a rise in tension in the Reef's pools.
With an investment of millions of shekels, arrangements were made to transfer three dolphins to the Black Sea, the original home of the Reef's first four dolphins that arrived in Eilat some 13 years ago. Lemon, however, didn't survive. Last week, he died of a broken heart, in the Reef's pool.
"He stayed motionless in the water for days on end, with his nose and head turned toward the open sea, lifting and lowering his head to the sea, close to the net," recounted Maya Zilber. "He was depressed and it was heart-wrenching to see him in such a state."
Nir Avni, the Reef's general manager, said that the entire complex operation of transferring the dolphins to the Black Sea was devised so as to find a solution to Lemon's distress. "We even started to scatter live fish in the water in an effort to entice him to hunt them and thus to get him to move a little. And then one morning, last week, we saw Shandy trying to lift Lemon to the surface, to help him to breathe. He died very quickly."
The Dolphin Reef lost four of its dolphins last year, an unprecedented mortality rate at the site since its establishment. The reason for the deaths, so it appears, was the decision to stop allowing the dolphins out into the open sea.
"We decided to part with our children, and to send them to the Black Sea, in the belief that they will be better off there," said Maya Zilber. "Here, they can't live in freedom, nor mate with the wild dolphins...The idea of the Dolphin Reef was to show people that it is possible to live with dolphins without imprisoning them. Dolphins naturally like humans."
The directive to stop allowing the dolphins out into the open sea came from the Nature and Parks Authority, following a number of attacks on people. In most instances, the victims of the attacks were individuals who had tried to feed or ride on the dolphins.
Amnon Nahmias, a spokesman for the Nature and Parks Authority, commented that the instruction to stop allowing the dolphins into the open sea stemmed from a recommendation from researchers who had said that the Reef's dolphins were accustomed to receiving food from humans and had therefore become aggressive. Nahmias did confirm, however, that there was no evidence to show that the Reef's dolphins had been responsible for the attacks on people.
Haaretz has learned meanwhile that talks are underway between the Reef and the Authority on the possibility of marking the Reef's animals and having a marine official patrol the beaches the animals frequent. An agreement between the sides will allow the Reef to return to its original custom of allowing the dolphins to come and go as they please.
Despite the death of Lemon, the Reef's owners decided to go ahead with the release project for Shandy and Pashosh. Some six years ago, another of the Reef's dolphins, Dicky, was returned to the Black Sea for similar reasons. Dicky is expected to recognize Shandy and Pashosh and make it easier for them to adjust to their new home.