3 September, 2020

By Jeni Kardinal

Before joining SeaTrek’s team, my husband Frank and I sailed on a small (12 metre) sailboat from San Francisco to New Zealand. After four years on the ocean, I can truly say that seeing dolphins in the wild NEVER gets old! They are one of the most magical of sea creatures and it’s always such a thrill seeing them porpoising toward the boat to ride the bow wave. They always seem to mesmerise me into a trance of delight.

SeaTrek Sailing Adventures offers many opportunities to see dolphins riding the bow waves of Ombak Putih or Katharina. Check out our newest cruise where you can learn more about a special dolphin rehabilitation project here in Bali.

ombak putih and katharina pinisi boat

On this trip, not only will guests learn about coral restoration, but they will also have an opportunity to meet with Femke Den Haas, founder of JAAN (Jakarta Animal Aid Network) who manages the Dolphin Rescue and Education Center in Bali.

JAAN and The Dolphin Project are working in collaboration with the Ministry of Environment and have recently rescued five dolphins from a hotel in Bali, where they were kept in a pool for tourists to swim with, and relocated them to the world’s first permanent dolphin rehabilitation, release and retirement facility for formerly captive dolphins located in the sea off West Bali.

Frank (SeaTrek Director) and I recently met with Femke and Wayan, one of the dolphin trainers at the center. Wayan is a young bright Balinese woman who gained a unique perspective after having sat on both sides of the dolphin fence: she worked as a dolphin trainer for the hotel for eight years and now has been working for the Dolphin Rehabilitation Program for a year. She is now an advocate to save other dolphins from pools and rehabilitate them to be returned to the sea to reunited with their families where they were captured.

Wayan now sees how happy the dolphins are living in the sea pens, which are three times deeper than the pools they were confined to and without any chlorine or chemicals to burn their eyes. She is witnessing the dolphins play for the first time, diving deep and blowing bubbles which they never did in captivity. It brings a smile to her face to see them happy and growing stronger.

At the hotel in Bali where dolphins lived in shallow pools with excessive amounts of chemicals in the water to keep it clear. Two of the dolphins even went blind in one eye, but they are all now transferred to a rehabilitation center with deep pools with sea water. Once they learn to catch their own fish, then they can be released back into the wild to re-unite with their families.

Surprisingly, dolphins cannot simply be released immediately back to sea after life in captivity. They must re-learn how to catch live fish so they can feed themselves. These four dolphins had been captured from the wild when they were very young and hadn’t yet learned how to catch live fish or squid, or perhaps forgot after 15 years in captivity. At the hotel they were only given chopped up frozen food. The first live fish that Wayu fed to them was still wriggling and the dolphins were quite startled at the new sensation! Imagine eating live food if you weren’t used to it! After a few weeks the dolphins graduated to catching injured fish and now are starting to feed on healthy live fish.

After a few weeks, the dolphins graduated to catching injured fish and now are starting to feed on healthy live fish.
The dolphins are close to being able to be released and are awaiting funding for the transportation cost to bring them to the same location as where they were captured off the island of Java. The trainers believe there is a chance they could reunite with their original family pod.

Wayan is a Local Conservation Hero and her story is an important one, so much so that SeaTrek has decided to write a children’s story about her. This story will help educate kids and adults about dolphins’ lives, both in a pool and in the wild. Our first children’s book in a new series which will feature Local Hero’s doing amazing things to help preserve the natural environment. Anastasia, one of our SeaTrek tour leaders, is enthusiastically helping with the upcoming translating and assistance with creating the book!