On March 29th, CARE, in collaboration with congresswoman Jeong Mi Lee, Hotpink Dolphins, and the Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA), held a press conference to present the results of the nationwide aquarium investigation.

A joint investigation consisting of representatives from the office of Jeong Mi Lee, CARE, KAWA, Hotpink Dolphins, and other animal rights organizations, and the Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries, investigated the health, living conditions and management of 40 dolphins in eight aquariums around South Korea from the February 22nd to March 3rd.

This was the first investigation into captive marine mammal welfare and living conditions since they started to be displayed in South Korea in 1984.

Major Findings of the Investigation

The water tanks in which the animals were kept and displayed were generally small.

Although the overall area of water tanks fulfilled legal requirements (a surface area of 84 square meters and a depth of 3.5 meters), the area alloted to individual animals ranged from surface areas of 16 to 38 square meters, well below the legal requirement. This is because the current law regulates only the gross tank area in which the animal is kept, and not the area of the tank which the animal has to itself.

The conditions do not come close to emulating any aspect of the animals’ natural habitats.

For example, in Geoje Sea World, where six whales have died in the last two years, water is pumped directly into the tanks from coastal areas. Beluga whales live in the Arctic and sub-Arctic oceans where temperatures are between 8°C and 14°C. Summer temperatures in southern South Korea can reach as high as 40°C, and as there is no shade provided for some of the belugas and the pools are not deep enough for them to escape surface temperatures, this constitutes a completely unsuitable environment for them, resulting in severe health problems.

Stereotypical stress behaviors, such as repeated jumping was observed from the dolphins. It is well known that these behaviors are shown by captive animals in zoos and other places where their freedom of movement and interaction is taken away.

Management system were inadequate.

Only five among the eight aquariums investigated has a resident vet. At the aquariums where there was no vet, the manager or other non-qualified person administered health care. Some aquariums did not have a procedural manual for responses to health-risk situations, such as red algae blooms or changes to water salinity. At Jangsaengpo Special Whale Culture Zone, where a dolphin imported from Taiji, Japan died in February of 2017, there was no aquarium management manual at all.

At the press conference, Jeong Mi Lee stated that

The facilities have been managed so badly, yet the government has neglected them for several decades.

The Ministry of Environment and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries are responsible for facilities that breed and and look after endangered marine species in accordance with the Wildlife Protection Act, yet they have neglected aquarium management. The reason given is that the regulations related to aquarium management are not clear.


Artists rendering of what a coastal dolphin sanctuary could look like.

This investigation was hampered by many aquariums rejecting requests to submit their data, and completing maintenance and management logs incorrectly, inadequately, or not at all.

In spite of the gaps in the information, the results clearly show that dolphins in aquariums in South Korea are living in very poor conditions, and the noncommittal attitude of the government has contributed to a lack of supervision of aquariums leading to mismanagement and incompetence.

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We ask that at the very least the government clarifies and strengthens its regulations regarding captive marine mammals, and regularly checks, inspects, and supervises these facilities in the future.

Ideally, we demand that government ban the importation of dolphins, whales, and other Cetaceans into South Korea.

Return to the Ocean

Unfortunately, the 43 dolphins currently captive in aquariums cannot be returned to the ocean, where they risk being captured again. Most of them are from Taiji, Japan.

Therefore, in collaboration with other animal rights and environmental organizations in Korea, we are going to set up an ocean sanctuary for dolphins.

The ocean is where they live, and the ocean is where they should be returned to.

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