Culminates 12-year campaign
BALI, Indonesia––Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project on September 3, 2022 celebrated the release into the open ocean of the bottlenose dolphins Johnny, Rocky, and Rambo, after three years of rehabilitation and a decade-long campaign to free them from the captive dolphin exhibition industry.
“We’re tracking them now,” Ric O’Barry emailed to ANIMALS 24-7. “This is the fourth and final step,” in Ric O’Barry’s four-step dolphin rescue sequence.
The first step, Ric O’Barry enumerated, is confiscating dolphins to be released from an illegal captive situation.
Thirty-eight long-term captive dolphins released
Rehabilitation for whatever health issues the dolphins may have developed in captivity comes next, then release as soon as possible, and last of all, tracking the newly freed dolphins through a “period of adjustment,” to ensure that they are able to cope with the wild and will not attempt to return to captivity.
Johnny, Rocky, and Rambo appear to be the thirty-sixth, thirty-seventh, and thirty-eighth longterm captive dolphins whom Ric O’Barry, 82, has released in 52 years of trying to end dolphin captivity, beginning with his unsuccessful attempted release of a dolphin named Charlie Brown from a research facility in Bimini on Earth Day 1970.
Earlier, O’Barry was a dolphin trainer himself for 10 years at the Miami Seaquarium, including training the dolphins used in the Flipper television series aired from 1964 to 1967.
Upstaged by Watson
The Bali dolphin releases were upstaged by the September 5, 2022 exit of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society founder Paul Watson from his own organization. (See PIRATES! Captain Paul Watson goes down with the sinking Sea Shepherds.)
This, to a considerable extent, appears to have been the story of Ric O’Barry’s life, often losing headlines and air time to the much more flamboyant Watson.
O’Barry nonetheless characteristically set aside celebrating one of his signal accomplishments to express support of Watson in a posted comment to ANIMALS 24-7, not even mentioning the Bali dolphin releases until ANIMALS 24-7 asked if he cared to add anything to the sparse Huffpo, MSN and Associated Press media coverage.
“It was Femke & Lincoln”
Said Ric O’Barry when prompted, “The wire service reports forgot to mention Femke Monita (Den Haas) and the Jakarta Animal Aid Network,” founded by Monita (Den Haas) in 2008.
“It was Femke and Lincoln,” Ric O’Barry’s son and Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project Campaign Coordinator, “who started this Free Bali Dolphins campaign more than ten years ago,” Ric stipulated.
“This measurable progress we are enjoying wouldn’t have happened without Femke. Femke is the most effective activist in Indonesia,” Ric O’Barry opined.
“She’s fluent in Bhasa Indonesian,” the national language, and a master citizen diplomat who is the conduit to the Indonesian government. Lincoln, Helene,” Ric O’Barry’s wife, “and I try to stay in the background,” Ric O’Barry explained.
“It ain’t me, babe!”
“We are really more of backup for Femke. She’s the one who organized the entire operation, and the our illustrious Balinese team of former dolphin trainers, our team of veterinarians, scientists, water police, navy and coast guard. She’s the unsung hero. It ain’t me babe!” Ric O’Barry emphasized.
Recalled Lincoln O’Barry back in 2019, “We first went to the Melka Excelsior Hotel in 2010,” where the dolphins Johnny, Rocky, and Rambo were formerly exhibited, “having discovered it while filming Blood Dolphin$,” a three-episode Animal Planet television series first aired in August 2010.
Jakarta Animal Aid Network marine mammal coordinator Amang Raga told local media that the dolphins Johnny and Rocky were blind, possibly due to long exposure to chlorinated water.
The Melka Excelsior Hotel had possessed a conservation permit, which allowed it to house protected animals such as dolphins, the news web site Coconuts Bali reported, while offering guests “a chance to watch their daily dolphin show or to swim with dolphins in the hotel’s saltwater pools, for an additional charge.
While Ric O’Barry downplayed his own role in getting Johnny, Rocky, and Rambo released, the first turning point in the long campaign came when Ric O’Barry himself on February 5, 2013 spoke on the @america live television program, hosted by the U.S. Embassy.
Indonesian forestry minister Zulkifli Hasan, also among the guests, told O’Barry and Monita (den Haas) that “No traveling circus in Indonesia is permitted to transport live dolphins,” the Jakarta Globe reported at the time.
Hasan “called on activist groups like the Jakarta Animal Aid Network to help officials deal with the problem,” the Jakarta Globe continued.
Before Hasan addressed the @america broadcast, O’Barry showed the audience the bulletproof vest he had been asked to wear on his way into the studio.
“Outside the venue,” the Jakarta Globe reported, “visitors were heckled by a mob of men dressed in black uniforms, who claimed that the organizers did not have a permit to hold the discussion. Calling itself the Indonesian Alliance, the mob also disrupted the discussion and claimed to represent one of the circuses.”
Unintimidated, O’Barry took the opportunity to remind Hasan that the Jakarta Animal Aid Network and Earth Island Institute, under whose umbrella the Dolphin Project operated from 2006 to 2014, had in October 2010 signed a memorandum of understanding with the Indonesian forestry ministry to rehabilitate and release dolphins confiscated from illegal exhibitors and traffickers.
In fulfillment of the memorandum of understanding, O’Barry had overseen the construction of a sea pen at Karimun Jawa for the purpose of rehabilitating confiscated dolphins to be released.
The Indonesian forestry ministry balked, however, at actually impounding any of the estimated six dozen dolphins then believed to be in illegal traveling shows.
An @america audience member told Hasan that “he had seen a dolphin show at a circus in Bantul, Yogyakarta, and had been told by the circus officials that they obtained their permit from the Forestry Ministry,” the Jakarta Globe recounted.
“You just tell me where this circus is, and if need be, I’ll go there myself and break it up,” Hasan said.
Appearing to keep his promise, Hasan flew to Bali eight days later, on February 13, 2013, to see Wayan and Made, two dolphins who were kept without permits at the Akame Restaurant in Benoa Harbor. Reportedly calling the facilities “cruel and unacceptable,” Hasan pledged to have the dolphins removed to the Karimun Jawa sea pen.
“For ten days following this public announcement,” Lincoln O’Barry recounted, “the Akame Restaurant continued to hold dolphin shows. No subsequent action was taken, leading to a local protest at the site on February 22, 2013.”
Then the dolphins disappeared, “understood to be headed back to the traveling circus in Weleri, Central Java,” from which the dolphins were believed to have been rented or purchased, Lincoln O’Barry told ANIMALS 24-7 a few days afterward.
Just over a year later, in July 2014, a beachfront attraction called Wake Bali Resto & Dolphin in Keramas, Gianyar regency, Bali, opened both a dolphin show and a swim-with-dolphins program.
Wake Resto & Dolphin featured four young dolphins in a pool smaller than would be legal in the U.S. for even one dolphin.
Wersut Seguni Indonesia
The Jakarta Animal Aid Network and the Bali Animal Welfare Association obtained statements from Wake Bali Resto & Dolphin staff that the dolphins were obtained from a company in central Java called Wersut Seguni Indonesia.
This was the same company that had supplied the dolphins Wayan and Made to the Akame Restaurant.
“The dolphins were captured in the Java Sea, which is illegal, yet the company that bought them from fishermen claimed they were rescued after being entangled in fishing nets,” Monita (den Haas) told media.
Monita (den Haas) added that Wersut Seguni Indonesia had also supplied the dolphins kept at the Melka Excelsion Hotel and at the Taman Safari Indonesia in Bogor, owned by the same family that owns the Bali Safari & Marine Park.
Four dolphins remained at Wake Bali Resto & Dolphin for nearly five years.
Returned to traveling show
“In March 2018,” Monita (den Haas) posted to the Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project web site, “our team on the ground photographed a dolphin at Wake Bali whose teeth had been filed down to blunt pegs. It’s quite likely that in order to prevent patrons from being accidentally injured, the dolphin’s teeth were mechanically blunted. The owners of Wake Bali stated the dolphin lost its teeth due to age-related changes – which was entirely false.”
After almost another year of campaigning, den Haas on April 13, 2019 persuaded the Bali forest department to withdraw the Wake Bali Resto & Dolphin permits to keep dolphins, due to “the poor conditions in which dolphins suffered.”
“The four dolphins at Wake went back to the traveling dolphin show [in Weleri, Central Java] when Wake was closed,” Ric O’Barry told ANIMALS 24-7. “Wake and the owners of the traveling dolphin show were partners. They split the profits taken in at Wake.
27 dolphins on the road
“I believe the traveling dolphin show owned 27 dolphins including the Wake four,” O’Barry added. “The numbers change because it is such an abusive operation that the mortality changes and they just buy more from the fishermen.”
Affirmed Monita (den Haas), “The dolphins were taken to the travel show headquarters in Central Java, as that’s where the dolphins came from. The owner of the travel show is the supplier of all captive dolphins in Indonesia.”
While those dolphins slipped through the Jakarta Animal Aid Network and Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project dragnet, through lack of effective Indonesian conservation law enforcement, the dolphins Johnny, Rocky, and Rambo at the Melka Excelsior Hotel “were forced to perform, doing tricks, manhandled by tourists in swim-with-dolphins sessions, and used in so-called ‘dolphin therapy’ programs. Other animals formed a mini zoo inside the hotel, held in darkness in concrete and steel cages,” Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project posted to Facebook.
“After receiving several complaints about the Melka Excelsior Hotel,” Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project continued, “the Central Jakarta Forestry Department asked our team to investigate. Upon reviewing our report, Ms. Indra Exploitasia, director of biodiversity conservation and directorate general of natural resources and ecosystem conservation, Ministry of Environment and Forestry, called for the immediate confiscation of all the animals.”
Indra Exploitasia [“Exploit Asia”] has used that name at least since 2010, when she was a staff scientist at Gede Pangrango National Park in West Java, Indonesia.
Through her intervention, the Jakarta Animal Aid Network and Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project on August 7, 2019 celebrated the transfer of two dolphins and many of the other animals from “deplorable conditions” at the Melka Excelsior Hotel to a variety of other Bali animal exhibition sites.
Three saltwater crocs
Rescued were “three saltwater crocodiles, two leaf monkeys, several birds, snakes, and porcupines,” Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Protect announced then, adding that, “Sadly, on August 3, 2019, just days before the rescue, one of the dolphins died,” leaving two still to move.
“The two dolphins who have already been moved were brought to spare sea pens at Dolphin Lodge Bali in southern Denpasar,” reported Coconuts Bali, “whereas the other animals have been brought to the Bali Zoo and the Bali Safari & Marine Park, where they will stay for the time being.”
The temporary accommodations, while offering better facilities than the animals had at the Melka Excelsior Hotel, were themselves problematic.
Dolphin Lodge Bali is a swim-with-dolphins attraction offering tourists a “close encounter with dolphins, stingrays, and sharks at sea near Mertasari Beach, Sanur, Denpasar, just half an hour from the Denpassar International Airport.
The Bali Zoo and the Bali Safari & Marine Park have checkered history investigated by ANIMALS 24-7 on site, detailed in Off-exhibit secrets of troubled zoos.
Of the two dolphins who were transferred from the Melka Excelsior Hotel later, one named Dewa died on March 11, 2020 from “several health problems including chronic pneumonia” acquired at the Melka Excelsion Hotel, according to the Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project web site.
Despite fears that the Dolphin Lodge Bali might try to keep Dewa, Johnny, Rocky, and Rambo, all four were promptly relayed to the Umah Lumba Rehabilitation, Release and Retirement Center in Banyuwedang Bay, West Bali, established by the Jakarta Animal Aid Network and Ric O’Barry’s Dolphin Project.
“We wish them a good long life”
There, when deemed sufficiently healthy, Johnny, Rocky, and Rambo were finally returned to the wild.
“After passing through underwater gates to freedom, the three dolphins spent about an hour swimming nearby,” wrote HuffPost trends team reporter Marco Margaritoff. “But they eventually set course for unknown destinations, as clapping Umah Lumba Center staffers looked on,” Margaritoff said.
“It was an incredibly emotional experience to see them go,” recounted Lincoln O’Barry. “They turned back around and came back to us one more time, almost to say thank you and good-bye,” Lincoln O’Barry said. “Where they head next, we don’t know. But we wish them a good long life.”