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Activists Fight to Free Lonely Beluga Whale Bella from South Korean Mega-mall

May 2024

Dolphin Project and Hot Pink Dolphins have launched a petition urging Lotte World Aquarium to rehabilitate and evaluate Bella for release into the wild. Captured at two years of age in 2013, her tank is barren concrete. 

Species Unite is urging our community to join Hot Pink Dolphins and Dolphin Project in calling for Bella’s release. You can sign the urgent PETITION here: Retire Bella the Beluga.

captive beluga whale

A lone Beluga whale, named Bella, has been confined inside a barren, concrete tank in a South Korean mega-mall for nearly a decade.

In 2013, after being captured from the wild at around two years old, she was sold to the Lotte World Aquarium alongside two male belugas, Bello and Belli.

The animal attraction, owned by one of South Korea’s largest conglomerates and housed inside the world’s sixth-tallest skyscraper, has attracted millions of visitors over the years.

“The trade is fueled by greed. There is a lot of money to be made from capturing and selling these charismatic mammals to marine parks and aquariums,” said American dolphin activist Helene O’Barry. “The exploitation will never stop until spectators look beneath the surface and ask themselves if a few minutes of fun justifies such cruelty.”

Despite beluga whales having a life expectancy between 35 and 50 years, Bellu tragically died in 2016 at just age five. Belli passed away three years later in 2019 at the age of 12.

Their deaths sparked public outrage, leading the company to agree to release Bella not long after Belli passed away. They repeated their pledge in 2021, but the beluga remains on display to the public.

“Lotte says they are taking measures but we do not actually know,” Jo Yak-gol, co-founder of the South Korean marine life group Hot Pink Dolphins, told CNN. “The exhibit is still open and no release date has been made public.

“She often circles around the tank without much meaning,” Jo said. “I believe it’s stress.”

Hot Pink DolphinsActivists from Hot Pink Dolphins protest at Bella's tank. Credit: Hot Pink Dolphins

A key part of the ‘Free Bella’ campaign messaging has focused on her lonely existence. Belugas are very social animals, Dr Valeria Vergara, the co-director of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation’s cetacean research program told The Guardian.

“They cooperate with each other to the point of helping raise each other’s young,” she said. “They have long lives, and, of course, they have a very complex communication system. Keeping such beings in captivity is simply unethical.”

“Keeping such beings in captivity is simply unethical.”
— Dr Valeria Vergara, Raincoast Conservation Foundation
South Korea banned the purchase of whales and dolphins for display in December, marking a landmark moment in the country’s animal protection laws. However, the law does not apply to animals already in captivity, such as Bella, one of five belugas confined in aquariums across the country.

Dolphin Project and Hot Pink Dolphins have launched a petition urging Lotte World Aquarium to rehabilitate and evaluate Bella for release into the wild.

“Lotte is one of the richest corporations in South Korea and has the financial means to help create a sanctuary for Bella in order for her to be rehabilitated and evaluated for release back into the ocean,” reads the petition. “It is time for Lotte to stand behind their commitment to rehabilitate and evaluate Bella for release.

“She deserves to regain the freedom that was stolen from her.”

Posted on May 30, 2024
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