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Rescue and rehabilitation of two Sotalia dolphins in Colombia

26 May 2014

‘Luna’ and ‘Karolina’ return to the sea


  • On June 5, two Sotalia guianensis dolphin species will be released in the Pozos Colorados (Santa Marta).

  • An adult female and a juvenile came to the Aquarium and Sea Museum in Rodadero seriously injured, apparently by fishing nets.

  • The two individuals are to be fitted with SPLASH satellite tracking transmitters.

  • For the first time in Colombia and in the world, this technique is used on this species of dolphin (Sotalia guianensis)


June 5, World Environment Day, was the date chosen by the Aquarium and Sea Museum Rodadero (Santa Marta), the Autonomous Corporation of Magdalena (CORPAMAG) and Omacha Foundation, for the return home (Pozos Colorados , Santa Marta) of ‘Luna’  and ‘Karolina’.  These are the two Sotalia guianensis dolphin species that were rescued by fishermen in Santa Marta.


For the release, they will be fitted with a SPLASH satellite tag for satellite tracking data and diving, providing valuable information about the species and local populations. This is the first time in Colombia and in the world that this technique is being used in the species Sotalia guianensis.


‘Luna’; who is young, playful, friendly and active, was the first to be rescued. This occurred on September 20, 2013, when a fisherman found her near Pozos Colorados floating on her side, and had extensive skin wounds around the mouth, dorsal fin and tail, and had breathing problems.


She was immediately taken to the aquarium Rodadero, who up until now have been responsible for her care and recovery. ‘Luna’, who is about 25 to 30 kg and 1.5 m in length, was very inactive and unresponsive to stimulation, and was in a state of lethargy.


Three days later, another fisherman aquarium arrived with a second dolphin tied to his boat and had found about 2 km from Playa Salguero. ‘Karolina’ (about 50-60 kg), another female, but this time an adult, had the same symptoms as Luna. Both had obvious marks of their struggle against fishing nets.


With both individuals in separate pools for effective recovery, quarantine protocols were established and sampling allowed evaluating overall health. Despite multiple trauma and difficulty swimming, from the time of receipt at the aquarium facilities, veterinarians began a rehabilitation process to stabilize and rehabilitate these animals in order to free them.


After the marked improvement of the two females, it was decided to move them to an area with more water and put them together. A close link between the two dolphins was observed, which led the staff to believe that this may be mother and daughter.


As part of the release protocol, CORPAMAG decided to hire the services of Susana Caballero, research professor at the Universidad de los Andes and expert in genetics of marine mammals.  She will conduct genetic testing to determine if there is kinship between the two dolphins and their genetic relationship with groups of dolphins of this species in the Caribbean. The samples will be analyzed at the Laboratory of Molecular Biology, University of the Andes.


Now ‘Luna’ and ‘Karolina’ have almost doubled their weight, all their wounds are healed and there is even a visible recovery of lost tissue, making it clear that they are ready to be released.


During the rehabilitation process of the dolphins, CORPAMAG, Aquarium and Sea Museum and Omacha Foundation (who are acting as technical advisors) began to evaluate various scenarios for release. Considering the trauma experienced by animals, Omacha suggested holding a soft release, ie a process in which individuals are gradually adapted to a change in the food and confinement space in order to free them.


Keep in mind that despite the good veterinary care that they can provide to the dolphins, there is always a risk factor: the stress caused by transportation, change in diet, laboratory tests, penning, among other. Therefore, a process of air transport (little studied in marine mammals) for this shy, nervous and excitable sort, it could be fatal.


In order to minimize the maximum stress factors, it was decided to carry out the liberation in the area of Pozos Colorados in Santa Marta, a place where they were found and represents less transit time.


The countdown has already started for when ‘Luna’ and ‘Karolina’ can return home together as a beautiful gift from the International Environment Day account.


 * This release is supported on Maltizz and Taximarino.


By David Kieckbusch

Omacha Fundacion


Image Source: Omacha Fundacion





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