One of the largest arguments used to support keeping wild animals like dolphins and whales in captivity is the fact that they would never be able to survive in the wild after life in a tank. While this may be a valid concern for animals born into life at a marine park or aquarium who never learned the basic skills of hunting or interacting with other members of a pod, for animals who were taken from their native habitat and forced into a tank, the story is a bit different. With the proper rehabilitation, dolphins and whales can be successfully released back into the wild – just take a look at the case of Sambal the dolphin.

Sambal was illegally captured along with three other dolphins for display at Jeju’s Pacific Land theme park and the Grand Seoul Zoo in South Korea. After it was discovered that the animals had been illegally apprehended, however, the Supreme Court ruled that the cetaceans would have to be given up. Luckily, the Korean Animal Welfare Association and Ric O’Barry set to work helping to rehabilitate these dolphins and prepare them to return to the wild.


The dolphins were weaned off dead fish and rehabilitated in sea pens. According to O’Barry, Sampal was the most eager to return to the wild and escaped her sea pen before the official release. It is reported that she rejoined her pod shortly thereafter.

Nearly three years later and Sambal is thriving in her wild home! She was recently spotted off the coast of South Korea with a healthy calf in toe!




Jang Yi-kwon, a professor at Ehwa Womans University called the successful breeding a culmination of the project of releasing captive dolphins and an unprecedented exemplary case. Cho Hee-kyung, leader of the Korean Animal Welfare Association expressed a similar joy, and told the Korean Herald,”that the birth will hopefully raise more attention to the cause of returning dolphins at aquariums to the wild.”

Wild release is not always an option for captive animals, O’Barry explains, “[for these dolphins] Captivity has destroyed something vital in their lives, something that, were they human, we would call ‘spirit.’ For them, it is too late.” But in the case where rehabilitation and release is an option, it certainly presents a positive alternative to keeping animals locked up in tanks indefinitely.

Sambal is an amazing example of what can happen when dolphins are given the chance to return to the life they deserve and her success gives us hope that this can be possible for many others as well. Although attitudes towards keeping wild animals in captivity are starting to change across the world, there is still a long way to go until all of the tanks are emptied. We can all help make this possible by refusing to attend marine parks and other captive animal attractions. No animal deserves to suffer for the sake of our entertainment.

In-text image source: WDC


Lead image source: Flickr