Korean dolphin to be freed

A dolphin at the Seoul Zoo will be released into the ocean following calls from animal rights groups to free dolphins captured illegally.

The zoo will indefinitely suspend its dolphin show from March 19, Seoul City and Seoul Zoo said Monday.

They will return the male dolphin Jedol to the seas off Jeju Island where it was caught, after training it to adapt to the wild. But the other four at the zoo will remain there due to old age and different origins.

Animal rights groups had claimed the capturing of endangered species is not just illegal, but also animal abuse as was offering shows to human beings while confining them in a small space.

“It is not only a matter of one dolphin going home, but a matter of the relationship between animals and humans, between nature and humans,” Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon said in a briefing at the zoo in Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Province.

“Jedol has been well protected here, but he will be freed in the seas off Jeju. The process of his return will also be managed well,” Park said, adding that Jeju Governor Woo Keun-min agreed on providing administrative cooperation.

Jedol is 13 years old and has been at the zoo since 2009. He was sent there from Pacificland, a marine leisure park in Jeju, after being swapped for two Steller’s sea lions. But it was revealed last July that Pacificland operators illegally bought the tursiops aduncus, an endangered species often called Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphin, from fishermen. Jedol was one of those mammals.

The city government said it will build a facility in Jeju where Jedol can be trained to go back to the wild, with a budget of some 870 million won.

The dolphin will be moved to the facility around March next year for the planned release in June 2014.

Park said Jedol may be sent to the sea off Gureombi shore, a planned naval base site that environmentalists are protesting, adding he heard many dolphins inhabit the area.

“Jedol will learn how to catch food instead of being fed, and how to live apart from humans,” the zoo Director Lee Won-hyo said.

Lee said Jedol may be able to re-adapt to the wild because he is relatively young and has been with humans for only about four years. A dolphin’s average lifespan is 20 years.

But the zoo will keep the remaining four _ two bought from Pacificland and two from Japan. “The two were from Jeju, too, but they are too old, 18 and 20 years old, respectively, and they may not be able to search for food in the wild. The other two from Japan are different species and cannot be released in the sea off Jeju, so we plan to keep them,” Lee said.

The show will be suspended from March 19 for about a month and the city will decide whether to resume after collecting opinions from experts and citizens.

Survival in the wild

The big question is whether Jedol can adapt to the wild well as he has been trained to be fed in an environment where the only enemy is confinement.

“We can’t say 100 percent that he can adjust to the wild again. If he fails to do so during adaptation training, he may be returned to the zoo. If he is released, we’ll put a GPS chip on him and monitor how he lives,” Lee said, expecting about a 70 percent chance of success.

A more pessimistic zoo employee said adaptation is unlikely even though the animal is trained. “Dolphins live in schools. Jedol will have to return to his original group, but it may be impossible. Other groups won’t let him join them,” said a worker who declined to be named.

On the closure of the show, she said citizens will oppose this, adding one third of the zoo visitors watch the show.

Sourece: Korea Times by Kim Rahn

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