By Nam Jong-young
An analysis by the Hankyoreh has confirmed that all dolphins appearing in South Korean animal shows are endangered species that were captured in the wild and trained. One of the dolphins appearing in Korean dolphin shows is the exceptionally intelligent bottlenose.
According to an analysis conducted Friday by the Hankyoreh from data on dolphin show venues nationwide, a total of 27 bottlenose dolphins are performing or displayed at all four aquariums, including one on Jeju Island. Also, the wild habitats from which the animals were captured are regions that are either facing extinction risks or the subject of controversy over environmental destruction.
Bottlenose dolphins whose accidental capture in illegal nets was discovered by the Korea Coast Guard on Thursday were found to be performing at Seoul Grand Park in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi, and Pacific Land on Jeju Island, with a total of twelve animals at the two sites. A 52-year-old identified by the surname Heo was booked without detention for violating the Fisheries Act after purchasing dolphins found caught in nets from fishermen and selling them to Seoul Grand Park.
The animals, which inhabit the waters off Jeju Island, were Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins, a Class 2 endangered species registered with the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species. According to a study by the National Fisheries Research and Development Institute’s marine mammal research center, a total of 114 Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins live in the Jeju Island area. If the current trend continues, their numbers are expected to plummet to twenty by 2050, bringing them close to extinction.
“At present, there is estimated to be one pod living off Jeju Island, the only one in Korea,” said Choi Seok-beom, a researcher with the institute. “We haven’t attached global positioning systems (GPS) to the dolphins for fear it might harm them, and our studies have been conducted through taking photographs.”
The remaining fifteen animals were found to have been purchased from Taiji in Japan’s Wakayama Prefecture, which is the subject of controversy over brutal whaling practices. The site is also famous from the film “The Cove,” which deals with the slaughter of dolphins, and has drawn the ire of international environment groups with a hunt that involves driving 2,000 dolphins per year into isolated locations to be speared with harpoons or captured alive for performances.
Dolphin shows are the subject of an active worldwide campaign of opposition stemming from their destruction to the wild habitats and brutal treatment of animals. In March, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, an international environmental group, issued a 2011 report on European Union dolphinariums in which it noted a mortality rate among performing and zoo dolphins nearly twice that of animals in the wild owing to increases in weight loss, violent behavior, and stomach ailments. These are the result of the stress experienced when dolphins, which are known to swim as much as 1,076 kilometers over a twenty-day period, are confined to an enclosed space. For this reason, thirteen of the EU’s 27 member nations do not have dolphinariums, with Great Britain’s last closing its doors in 1993.
South Korea, however, has seen an increase in dolphinariums and dolphin show venues. Ulsan’s South District is adding two dolphins from Japan at the end of the year, with plans to open a new training site for the animals. The city of Ulsan and its East District have presented plans for building a large aquarium and training center, respectively. The ultimate plan for these local governments is to capture dolphins off the country’s coast and train them at the center. A South District official said, “Dolphins cost a lot to move, amounting to some 80 million to 90 million won to bring in one animal.”
Environmental groups called the dolphins used in shows “Animals that are dying to entertain you.”
“There need to be regulations implemented at the government level, including measures to notify the aquarium of the dolphin’s history, such as its place of capture,” said Oh Young-hae, secretary-general of the Ulsan chapter of the Korean Federation of Environmental Movements.