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Updated December 26th, 2023 at 13:24 IST

Freedom for Bella, a beluga whale: everything you need to know

A female beluga whale, captured in Russian waters at around two years old in 2013, spent close to a decade in a barren tank within a South Korean mega mall.

Digital Desk
Whale
A female beluga whale, captured in Russian waters at around two years old in 2013, spent close to a decade in a barren tank within a South Korean mega mall. | Image:Unsplash
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A female beluga whale, captured in Russian waters at around two years old in 2013, spent close to a decade in a barren tank within a South Korean mega mall. The Lotte World Aquarium, Seoul's largest aquarium run by a major conglomerate, housed the beluga named Bella, along with two male belugas, Belli and Bellu, and other polar animals like penguins and seals, forming a popular arctic attraction.

Captivity and Exploitation: A Beluga Whale's Tale

1. Life in Captivity: The Luminescent Tank

  • In a 1,224-ton tank, three beluga whales were the stars, often featured in visitors’ selfies and TikToks.
  • The trio, captivating viewers with twirls in luminescent blue water, became a spectacle in a tank 24 feet deep.

2. Tragic Demise of Belugas: Bellu and Belli

  • Bellu died at the age of 5 in 2016; Belli followed in 2019 at the age of 12.
  • In the wild, beluga whales have an average life expectancy of 35 to 50 years, but captivity drastically shortens their lives.

3. Firestorm of Criticism and Broken Promises

  • South Korean animal rights activists criticized the deaths, prompting action from the Lotte Corporation.
  • In 2019, Lotte pledged to release Bella, the remaining beluga whale.

4. Empty Promises and Lingering Captivity

  • Despite promises, as of nearly 2024, Bella remains on display in the aquarium.
  • Lotte claims release plans are still in place, but details and a release date remain undisclosed.

5. Stressful Signs of Captivity

  • Videos show Bella exhibiting stress behaviour, including spinning in circles and floating listlessly near the water's surface.
  • The spokesperson claims Bella is in good health but undergoing training for release.

6. Controversy Surrounding Captive Whales

  • Activists estimate around 300 beluga whales are in captivity globally.
  • The aquarium industry in East Asia, particularly in China and Japan, sees a rise in popularity despite growing controversy.

7. Hope for a Sanctuary: Norway's Invitation

  • Norway's Norwegian Whale Reserve offers a sanctuary in a vast arctic fjord for Bella's potential release.
  • Lotte has not confirmed acceptance of the invitation or provided updates on the release.

8. Urgent Calls for Release and Animal Welfare

  • Animal rights organizations, including PETA and dolphin activist Ric O’Barry, call for Bella's release.
  • Urgency is stressed as Bella continues to suffer alone in captivity.

9. A Plea for a New Life: Undoing the Damage

  • O’Barry expresses readiness to travel to South Korea to facilitate Bella's release.
  • Calls persist for the Lotte Corporation to prioritize Bella's welfare and let her experience life in a sanctuary.
     
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Published December 26th, 2023 at 13:21 IST

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