In an unprecedented tale of survival and hope against all odds, a formerly captive dolphin named Sampal has given birth to a healthy calf after finding her own way back to her family and freedom in the open ocean.
Sampal’s story began in 2009, when she was accidentally netted by fishermen off the coast of South Korea. Rather than returning her back to the water, as the law dictates, those who caught her instead did the unthinkable — they sold her to a local marine park featuring dolphin shows.
It’s there that, for nearly four years, Sampal languished in a tiny pool where she was forced to perform tricks for entertainment. Though thoroughly robbed of any semblance of a natural life, she evidently never stopped longing for her life in the wild.
Fortunately, reprieve from her captivity came in 2013 when, at the behest of animal activists, a Korean high court ordered Sampal be set free. Along with other wild-caught dolphins held captive, she was moved to a sea pen to begin months of rehabilitation to ready her for release.
Sampal, however, had no interest in waiting. Months ahead of schedule, she slipped through a tear in the pen and disappeared into the ocean beyWikiped
Though there were concerns initially that Sampal was not yet reequipped with the skills needed to survive at sea, those were soon quelled. Just days after escaping, she was spotted 60 miles away, swimming with a pod believed to be her original family.
Sampal was finally home — but her story doesn’t end there.
Last month, a team from two Korean universities started seeing her again, only this time she was in the company of a calf.
“We have spotted Sampal and her baby swimming in a mother-calf position many times during the recent three weeks,” researcher Jang Soo-jin told the news agency Yonhap. “Strict criteria applied show that they are parent and child.”
This is believed to be the first time a dolphin freed from captivity has gone on to start a family in the wild, and it need not be the last.
While Sampal’s offspring will hopefully never know the sad life her mother had to endure, there are countless others like her in marine parks around the globe — all eager to overcome imprisonment to forge their own new legacies of freedom.