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Lawyer fights to rescue dolphins from ‘abysmal prison’ at Jeju’s Pacific Land
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승인 2013.04.04  18:52:31
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The Pacific Land facilities have been condemned as ‘outdated’ and ‘abysmal’. Photo courtesy Lee Hyung-ju, Animal Freedom Association

Jeju Island is touted as a paradise for humans, but what about for animals? According to some animal rights campaigners it is “the Island of Animal Abuse,” due to cases of animal neglect and mistreatment. The case of the Pacific Land Indo-Pacific dolphins is a case in point.

Pacific Land is a tourist attraction in Jungmun, Seogwipo, that puts on animal shows in what Dr. Naomi A. Rose, marine mammal scientist and protection advocate, calls: “one of the most outdated facilities I have ever seen.”

As reported by Barrett and Hong of Yonhap, the dolphins - illegally captured - were sold to Heo and Koh of Pacific Land for around 15 million won each. Of the initial 11 dolphins procured this way, six have since died - one since the appeal process was instigated - and another - Jedol - was sold to a Seoul theme park. (It will be released into Jeju waters in June 2014 after pressure from campaigners.)

“At the moment Pacific Land possesses four dolphins, in total,” said lawyer Song.Ji-heon, fighting for the release of the dolphins.

The dolphins, taken from the sea between 2009 and 2010, live in facilities with poor water quality, no natural light and noise levels “among the highest I have ever experienced,” according to Dr. Rose.

Song says Heo and Koh were found guilty of violating the Fishery Resource Management Act and Jeju District Court ordered the dolphins’ release and sentenced them each to eight months imprisonment and a 10 million won fine.

In order to delay the release, says Song, Heo and Koh lodged an appeal with the Supreme Court and the Court ordered arbitration while awaiting appeal.

“The Korean Animal Welfare Association (KAWA) requested medical check-ups be conducted and aquarium conditions to be improved. Pacific Land refused and insisted on following their own standards. As such, the Korean Animal Welfare Association then asked for a reduction in noise to under 80 decibels and for blood samples to be taken.”

“KAWA also asked to transfer the dolphins via the Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs and requested possession of the dolphins, but Pacific Land insisted they must wait for the Supreme Court appeal decision,” said Song.

Lawyer Song Ji-heon. Photo courtesy Song Ji-heon

Song feels the defendants know the original ruling won’t be overturned, but are stalling the dolphins’ release to maximise profits.

“The Court passed the same sentence in a Court of Appeal on Dec. 13, 2012. Pacific Land is making unfair profits from the dolphins - 2 billion won in entrance fees four to five times per day,” said Song.

Conditions at Pacific Land have been described as an “abysmal prison,” by The Dolphin Project. Dr. Rose and Samuel Hong, a dolphin biologist, report that noise is what is most disturbing for dolphins during live shows.

“A written opinion sent by Dr. Rose, says the noise level is estimated at 100-110 decibels during the show, which is extremely loud for dolphins; 100 decibels is similar to a rock concert and could even cause temporary hearing loss to spectators,” said Song.

“The size of the aquarium, the decibel level, and the quality of water are far short of international standards. It is very disappointing that [Heo and Koh] cling to the position that [the facilities are excellent] and will continue performing the show,” said Song.

“Due to being exposed to extreme noise a couple of times per day, there is the possibility that they have already lost some hearing. If it continues, it could... threaten their return to the wild,” Song continued.

Noise is not the only factor of concern at Pacific Land.

“The extremely small aquarium and poor feeding puts the dolphins under tremendous stress during the show, and one of the remaining dolphins, Haesun, died. The others are also in fear of their lives, with one dolphin’s jaw becoming paralyzed,” Song added.

Song says that as the animals are endangered and protected, the government has a duty to protect them. Despite the inaction, Song is determined to see positives in the case. She stated she was “very excited” at the initial ruling to release the animals, but the law is still weak in this area.

“The Court’s recommendation for a settlement is an unusual case, as existing animal protection laws and related laws are inadequate - it is difficult to protect [animal] rights,” said Song.

Song believes that this only plays into the hands of animal abusers.

“Even If Pacific Land does not follow the Court’s recommendation, and continues to perform the show, the present law is not strong enough to suspend the show. Therefore, the Animal Protection Act needs to be amended and I am working with KAWA, Green Party Korea and councilors to obtain an injunction to suspend the shows,” she said.

Despite the ongoing battle, this is the first time a Korean court has recognized an animal’s right to life, despite enforcement being weak. Song believes this mirrors wider social changes, but there is a long way to go before the law truly reflects public sentiment.

“More people live with pets animals and think we should protect and respect animal life, along with human life. However, Korean law still regards animals as subjects to use, sell and dispose of,” said Song.

Pacific Land is only able to profit from shows as members of the public continue to buy tickets and attend; Song says that people should think carefully before supporting such animal cruelty.

“In the wild, dolphins swim at 160 km per hour and live to be 40. In the show, however, people only see cute dolphins doing shows and do not know that they end their short lives in poor and cramped cages. There is no law to halt the shows, but before you decide to go, I want you to once more consider animal welfare.”

There is clearly a long fight ahead for animal rights defenders and Song is not going to be complacent.
“We are working on making the amendment to the Animal Protection Act, which will preserve the right to life [for animals]. I welcome your support and participation,” said Song.

**Update: on the day of going to press, March 28, The Supreme Court, in its final ruling, upheld the original sentence and ordered the release of the dolphins. The animals will be sent to Seoul Zoo for rehabilitation before being released into the waters around Jeju.**

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