While based in Puerto Rico, the Heraclitus made a series of voyages to explore the Caribbean, calling on the Bahamas, Jamaica, Akumal, Mexico, the Florida Everglades, Aruba (Venezuela), San Blas Islands, and Belize. When anchored near Turneffe Atoll (Belize), coral reefs and mangroves became the Heraclitus’ focus of exploration and research in order to develop the knowledge and skill to install the coral reef and mangrove marsh for Biosphere 2. Walter Adey of the Smithsonian Institution and local scientists in the islands collaborated in this effort.
In 1987, the Heraclitus sailed north from San Juan to the eastern seaboard of the United States, making landfall at Savannah, Georgia. The ship was tasked with providing logistical and scientific support to re-introduce two captive dolphins to the wild, the first time that such a complex feat of reverse training had been undertaken. The two Atlantic bottlenose dolphins (‘Joe’ and ‘Rosie’, captured some five years previously) were involved in research conducted by neurophysiologist and cetacean specialist John Lilly, MD, in his JANUS Project, (Joint Analogue And Numeric Understanding System) a series of experiments investigating dolphin to human communication using advanced signalling processors. These highly intelligent creatures assimilated a vocabulary of more than fifty words in English and proved particularly gifted when interacting with children and handicapped people.
Dr. Lilly, who had stipulated that Joe and Rosie be released back into their natural environment after the experimentation, handed responsibility to the Oceanic Research and Communication Alliance (ORCA) who in turn contracted the Heraclitus to assist in the operation. In late 1987, the two dolphins were flown by helicopter in specially constructed harnesses to Wassaw Island (Georgia, USA) near an estuary leading to the sea, where they were released into a tidal pen that the Heraclitus crew had constructed from PVC piping. Over the next month, under the supervision of Ric O’Barry (dolphin trainer for the TV series ‘Flipper’) Joe and Rosie interacted and became familiar with a local pod of bottlenose dolphins from within the safety of their pen, and were taught to catch their own fish again and to fend for themselves. Both dolphins quickly regained fitness owing to the strong tidal nature of the estuary. Finally, the gate to the pen was opened, and the dolphins were allowed to leave of their own free will. After some hesitation Joe and Rosie swam down-stream to join a wild pod of dolphins, which accepted them. A National Geographic film documented the project. About a year later, Rosie was spotted with a baby dolphin, further evidence of success.
This project established the baseline conditions for subsequent release programmes of captive whales and dolphins while gathering data regarding the complex processes of inter-species interactions. Having conducted studies of other birds and mammals inhabiting the wilderness of the Wassaw river environs, the Heraclitus set sail on its expedition to circumnavigate South America.