Free Bella: The Fight to Release a Beluga Whale in Seoul

Beluga whale in Seoul aquarium- featured image

From Awareness to Action: Advocating for the Release of Bella and Others Like Her

I stopped going to zoos and aquariums a while ago because I’ve become uneasy about keeping animals in such places. Recently, I came across the story of Bella, a Beluga whale, and it strengthened my belief that we need to reconsider how we treat animals in captivity. While zoos and aquariums might seem like fun places to observe incredible animals, the reality is that they can negatively impact their well-being. Bella’s story highlighted a Beluga whale’s challenges while living in captivity, making me more determined to support better alternatives, like conservation efforts, sanctuaries, and eco-friendly tourism. We need to find ways to appreciate the beauty of animals without causing harm or confining them just for our entertainment. And I can no longer support anyone who does.

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Beluga-whale-in-Seoul-aquarium Free Bella: The Fight to Release a Beluga Whale in Seoul

I’m not a PETA person. I admire the beauty of animals, but people will always come first. I just think animals should not be held captive for our enjoyment.

I’ve made mistakes, most notably by riding an elephant on my first trip to Thailand. I kept telling myself I had researched and hired a reputable company. But how could I be sure? I understand that in Thailand, mahouts are individuals tasked with caring for and training elephants. Traditionally involved in cultural and work activities, many mahouts have transitioned to tourism due to evolving practices and conservation efforts. However, there needs to be more clarity about whether these relationships prioritize the elephants’ well-being or are mainly profit-driven.

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Bigger is Better in South Korea

Having spent over eight years living on and off in South Korea, I’ve marveled at the country’s inherent beauty and its penchant for grandiosity in various aspects. South Korea tends to embrace the concept of “bigger is better,” which is evident in the sprawling amusement parks, expansive cafes, and colossal shopping malls that dot the landscape.

Therefore, when I discovered that Lotte World in Seoul boasted a Beluga whale housed in a 24-ft tank on the ground floor of a mall, the sheer scale of it didn’t surprise me. What did, however, was the revelation that this Beluga whale had been confined to that tank for an entire decade. The longevity of such captivity left me genuinely astonished and raised profound concerns about the welfare and ethical considerations surrounding the well-being of this magnificent creature.

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Bella’s Struggles in Captivity

A female beluga whale named Bella has lived in a concrete tank with artificial rocks in a South Korean mega mall for nearly a decade. She was captured in Russian waters in 2013 and sold to Lotte World Aquarium in Seoul. Bella, along with two male belugas, Belli and Bellu, and other arctic animals, was a popular attraction in a 1,224-ton tank. Despite promises from Lotte in 2019 to release Bella after the deaths of Bellu (2016) and Belli (2019), she remains on display in 2024.

South Korean animal rights activists criticize Lotte for not fulfilling its pledge, keeping the exhibit open, and not disclosing a release date for Bella. Lotte claims release plans are in progress, citing coordination with the South Korean Ministry of Health and Welfare. The company argues there needs to be a suitable place for Bella outside the exhibit. Animal rights activists criticize the delay.

Release Promises

Bella’s stress behavior includes circling and floating listlessly. Lotte claims her health is good, and she’s undergoing training for release into a new sea environment. Beluga whales, highly intelligent and social creatures, face challenges in captivity, with an average lifespan half that of their wild counterparts. The global aquarium industry, particularly in East Asia, faces criticism for the treatment of marine mammals. Bella is not the only whale in captivity. Approximately 300 beluga whales are held in captivity around the world. Recent moves by the South Korean government, including a ban on new dolphin and whale acquisitions for aquariums, indicate a shifting attitude.

The release of captive whales is challenging, especially for those captured at a young age. While Lotte insists on a sanctuary in Iceland as the only suitable release site, a Norwegian sanctuary has extended an alternative offer. The Norwegian Whale Reserve (NWR) proposes relocating Bella to its facility in Finnmark, Norway. Lotte questions the availability and approval of the Norwegian sanctuary. They say they are working hard to find the right place for Bella’s release. They hope to find a home that is suitable. Activists emphasize the need for responsible actions to ensure Bella’s well-being. They emphasize the ethical concerns surrounding keeping marine mammals in captivity.

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2024 Push to Free Bella

Entering early 2024, animal rights groups, including PETA Asia, are once again pressing Lotte Corporation to release Bella. Stating that nearly five years have passed, advocates are urging Lotte to cease procrastination and secure Bella’s freedom.

Bella is all alone in a small space. She is dealing with severe issues like constant stress. The environment is probably making her sick and shortening her life-span. We really need to do something quickly to help her and make her life better. We must take action now to improve Bella’s situation. Stressing the need for quick action to improve her situation. Ask Lotte to free Bella. We’re urging for her release to give her a chance at a better life. It’s the least any of us can do.

CNN reported that Dolphin activist O’Barry is prepared to travel with his teams to South Korea. Their mission is to facilitate Bella’s relocation to an overseas sanctuary. O’Barry is ready for the initiative. Stressing Bella’s need for companionship and the chance to return to the ocean, O’Barry implores Lotte to act responsibly. He stresses that the past is unchangeable. However, there is a chance to correct the situation by moving Bella from her confined tank to a sanctuary. Emphasizing the need for action, he underscores the opportunity for positive change.

Check out this beautiful floral-inspired cafe called VERS Gardenhouse Cafe located in Seoul.

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I wanted to share my perspective on animals in captivity, particularly the dynamics of competitiveness prevalent in South Korea. On the one hand, it makes Korea so interesting to visit. Conversely, it’s hard to draw the line between real and Disney. However, the discourse surrounding the treatment of animals, especially those confined in captivity, is different. However, by contributing my thoughts, I hope to foster a greater awareness of the ethical implications of such practices. We should advocate for responsible actions and work collectively toward ensuring the well-being of animals subjected to captivity.

So what am I asking you to do dear reader? Not much. However, I would appreciate it if you could help spread the word about Free Bella and her struggle for freedom. Additionally, if you’re considering visiting a zoo, aquarium, or petting zoo, I recommend exploring alternative activities instead.

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