Korea Times

Dolphin activists stand against new aquarium in South Korea

Government slammed as ‘inhumane’ for approving a new aquarium without measures ensuring quality of life for dolphins

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 2:05pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 02 March, 2017, 2:07pm

By Kim Se-jeong

In the wake of the death of a bottlenose dolphin in the South Korean city of Ulsan, Busan’s brand-new aquarium project is drawing criticism from animal rights activists.

A mega-sized ocean park, called Osiria, scheduled to open in 2019, will house an ocean hotel and an aquarium for dolphins, according to the city’s website.

According to News1, an online news outlet, Goldsea Korea Investment which owns Geoje Sea World on Geoje Island, is one of the project partners, worrying activists further. Since it opened, six dolphins have died at Geoje Sea World, according to News1.

“Approving a new aquarium without measures ensuring quality of life for dolphins is inhumane,” said Cho Yak-gol, a member of animal rights activist group Hot Pink Dolphins. “The government should act soon.”

Bottlenose dolphins are on the list of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), which allows countries to trade dolphins but under strict regulations. In Korea, bottlenose dolphins mostly come from Japan, and the importer only needs permission from the Ministry of Environment. Some countries made domestic rules stricter, banning all imports and exports.

Animal rights activists have long been critical of the government’s policy toward importing dolphins, and the outcry resurfaced recently after the death of a bottlenose dolphin in Ulsan earlier this month.

On February 13, a bottlenose dolphin abruptly died at the Jangsaengpo Special Whale Culture Zone, five days after it arrived from Japan.

Veterinarians from Kyungpook National University concluded the dolphin died of bronchial pneumonia caused by morganella morganii, a bacterium usually found in the stomach.

The experts said the bacteria’s presence in the lungs caused the health problems, suspecting the dolphin was ill to begin with.  

The death and ensuing outburst from the activists led to an unprecedented inspection of eight aquariums across the country including Jangsaengpo Special Whale Culture Zone and Geoje Sea World. The 10-day special inspection is supposed to be completed on Friday.

The death also prompted animal rights activists to file a complaint with Ulsan Mayor Kim Gi-hyun, and Rep. Lee Jeong-mi of the Justice Party to propose a legislative change banning dolphin imports for entertainment purposes.

Cho, who is on the inspection team, complained the aquariums were uncooperative.

“We wanted to see the places where guests are not allowed. We wanted to see how they are fed, how they are taken care of. But out of three, two refused to open the space for us.”

The activist also revealed another dolphin died in January at Geoje Sea World, “but the owner kept it a secret.”

About the results of the autopsy, Cho criticised the Ulsan city government, saying the dolphin died not because she was weak but because of the way she was treated during transport.

She was brought to Busan via ship. From there she was transported to Ulsan by truck.

“The truck was driving 80 kilometers per hour,” he said. “And the water in the tank was dirty,” he said, presenting photos believed to be taken from the vehicle. He added, “Ulsan is populated with many industrial facilities and I question the quality of water and air at the aquarium. Again, the local government in Ulsan should bear the responsibility.”

Dolphin activists stand against new aquarium in Busan