In October 2023, the Lotte World Aquarium in South Korea filed charges against a local animal rights group for holding a protest within its premises regarding the failure to release a beluga whale. Songpa Police Station said it is pressing charges of destruction of property and interference with business against eight activists from the group Hot Pink Dolphins. In 2022, they held a protest at the Lotte World Aquarium in Jamsil, southern Seoul, demanding that the company release the beluga whale Bella to a wildlife sanctuary.
When it opened in 2014, Lotte World Aquarium had acquired three belugas from Russia, but one died in 2016 and another in 2019, sparking accusations of animal cruelty from local environmental groups. The company said it would move the remaining beluga to a wildlife sanctuary by the end of 2022 but has yet to do so. According to the aquarium, the company had attempted to release Bella on three separate occasions but failed each time because another species had been occupying the area at the time, because of a delay caused by the Covid-19 outbreak, and because of health issues, but the animal rights activists questioned the sincerity of the aquarium’s intent and have held protests for Bella’s freedom.
Now the activists have been charged because the aquarium claimed that the adhesives used to attach the protestors’ banner to the interior glass had caused 700 million won (S$711,000) in damages and that their protest inconvenienced visitors and disturbed the animals. However, the activists have claimed that the damage was greatly exaggerated.
Mr Koh Jeong-rak, chief of the Lotte World Aquarium, said to The Straits Times, “We are having a discussion about releasing her (Bella) by 2026, but there can be other issues.” It is not surprising animal rights activists do not trust the aquarium, as a four-year delay seems unjustifiable.