There's a Move to Get Lonely Beluga Out of 'Unethical' Home

Animal rights activists are fighting for release of Bella, housed in a shopping mall aquarium in Seoul
By Jenn Gidman,  Newser Staff
Posted May 20, 2024 2:55 PM CDT
There's a Move to Get Lonely Beluga Out of 'Unethical' Home
Stock photo of a beluga whale (not Bella).   (Getty Images/slowmotiongli)

Efforts have kicked up again to "free Bella," a beluga whale housed in an aquarium in a South Korean shopping mall. Bella was caught in 2013 at the tender age of 2 in the Arctic Ocean, off the coast of Russia, and along with two other male belugas named Belli and Bello (sometimes spelled Bellu), she was subsequently sold to an aquarium situated in a posh shopping center beneath the Lotte World Tower in Seoul, per the Guardian. In their 1,200-ton-plus tank, the three sea creatures enthralled visitors and often showed up online and in selfies—until Bello died prematurely in 2016 at the age of 5, followed by Belli's death at age 12 in 2019, leaving Bella on her own, notes CNN Travel. Typically, belugas in the wild live to be 35 to 50 years old.

A South Korean law that just passed in December prohibits purchasing whales and dolphins for display purposes, but it doesn't apply retroactively to animals already in captivity, meaning keeping Bella at the aquarium remains legal. But that legality doesn't mean animal rights activists are happy about her continued stay there, where they say she's crammed into a tank that's only 24 feet or so deep. Valeria Vergara of the Raincoast Conservation Foundation adds that belugas are also very smart and social, and so keeping Bella alone in a tank over the long term is "simply unethical." "She lacks stimulation and is showing signs of a mental illness," Jo Yak-gol of Hot Pink Dolphins, a marine environmentalist group, tells the Guardian.

That outlet visited the aquarium and noted that "Bella was seen switching between aimless spinning and floating motionlessly." The aquarium vowed to release her in 2019, then again in 2021, but no signs have emerged since that show the plan coming to fruition, despite petitions circulating in favor of Bella's release. So what could be next for the beluga? A seaside sanctuary appears to be the only reasonable option, as she can't be returned to the wild at this point, Vergara tells CNN. A Lotte spokesperson told the outlet last year that Bella remained in "good health," and that they're still checking out plans for sanctuaries, specifically one in Iceland. As for why Bella is still on display, the rep noted: "At this point, there is no other place for her to stay." (More beluga whale stories.)

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