Sampal the Dolphin Escapes from Pen and Reunites with Her Family in the Ocean

If you were held captive for years, wouldn’t you yearn for your freedom?  That happened to a dolphin named Sampal. Her story will touch your heart.

Native to a small island off the shore of South Korea, Sampal was accidentally caught in a fishing net when she was 10 years old.  Instead of being released back to the open sea, she was sold to Pacific Land Aquarium and kept in a small pool and forced to learn tricks for food.  She lived this cruel life of captivity for three years.

Thanks to concerned citizens, including Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, the Korean High Courts ordered Sampal and two other captive dolphins to be released to open waters.  Preparing the mammals to return to the wild, a rehabilitation facility was set up to help teach the creatures how to survive in their natural habitat and without the intervention of humans.  The mayor helped another dolphin named Jedol last year, who had a similar story.

Three organizations set about this task.  In May of this year, the Korean Animal Welfare Association, Ewha University and the Cetacean Research Center transferred the dolphins to a temporary sea pen for rehabilitation. Ric O’Barry, director of Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project, was invited to assess the group for physical and psychological concerns. “They need to be un-trained what they learned at Pacific Land and retaught how to live in the ocean,” said O’Barry. His opinion was the dolphins should fare well once returned to their home area.

Sampal Does It Her Way

Release was scheduled for later this summer. However, Sampal had other ideas. After a month of rehabilitation, the net tore open a hole and Sampal found it! Dolphins don’t usually swim through small openings but Sampal must have realized this was her chance. Swim through she did, and while hanging around the ocean just outside of the sea pen, she saw people gathering. Sampal took this as her cue to swim free.

The good news is Sampal was tracked and found to be back with her pod. On June 27, the Cetacean Research Institute reported a confirmed sighting of Sampal about 100 kilometers away from the sea pen that she escaped. She found her family of about 50 dolphins and it appeared they had welcomed her back. Elephants aren’t the only animals with long memories.

About Dolphins

Dolphins are remarkable creatures.  They are considered the most intelligent non-human species. A little known fact is dolphins sleep with only half of their brain at a time to prevent drowning. The other half stays awake in order to keep breathing. They use echolocation — like bats — to find and capture food necessary for their carnivorous diets.

Communication is performed through whistles, clicks and burst pulses. The Wild Dolphin Project (WDP) is a scientific study that has been ongoing since 1985. Among WDP’s goals and objectives are maintaining a long-term database tracking family units, non-invasively. Newer technology has allowed WDP to create digitized recordings with the goal of decoding dolphin vocalizations. Won’t that be the day when humans can reciprocally communicate with dolphins?

Happy days are ahead for Sampal and her captive pool mates.  Thanks to the many South Korean citizens and Mayor Park Won-soon for giving Sampal’s life back to her.

Too bad corporations like Sea World don’t show compassion to the captive dolphins and other creatures its company profits from.  These magnificent beings do not belong in captivity for the mere entertainment of humans. Perhaps Mayor Park could consult with activists in the United States to teach how it is done?

Related Care2 Reading:

Dolphins Have Their Own Names For Each Other

Dolphin Tangled In Fishing Line Approaches Diver for Help


Jim Ven
Jim V3 years ago

thanks for the article.

Terri B.
Terri B5 years ago

seeing dolphins, or ANY animal held in captivity just to be exploited by ignorant humans MAKES ME SICK!!! humans suck!! WORLD WITHOUT PEOPLE - UTOPIA!!!

Roger M.
Past Member 5 years ago


Sheila Casey
Past Member 5 years ago

Thank you for a happy article. Thank you Korea!

Kari J.
Matilda W5 years ago

Great happy ending for Sampal! Well done Koreans for recognising the misery she must have endured.

Tricia Hamilton
Tricia Hamilton5 years ago

She is definitely smarter than the morons who kept her captive.

Sheila Stevens
Sheila S5 years ago

"Thanks to concerned citizens, including Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon, the Korean High Courts ordered Sampal and two other captive dolphins to be released to open waters."
This is an incredible precedent! Hope others will follow in the mayor's footsteps!

Dawnie D.
Past Member 5 years ago

You go girl! Wonderful story and a good man for helping her get her deserved freedom. So lovely to hear she found her family and they welcomed her back, so heartwarming. Peace and Love.

Winn Adams
Winn Adams5 years ago

Good news!

Margaret B.
Margaret B5 years ago

Thank you so much Mayor Park Won-soon and caring people of South Korea for the gift of freedom for these dolphins - bless you.