SEOUL-- Lotte World said Friday that it plans to send its only-surviving beluga whale in its aquarium to a wildlife sanctuary next year in a move for its eventual release into its natural habitat.
The theme park business unit of Hotel Lotte Co. said it is in contact with a whale sanctuary in Iceland, and plans to talk with sanctuaries in Russia and Canada.
Lotte World said the East Sea -- the body of water between South Korea and Japan -- is also considered as a site for releasing "Bella," or the last survivor of the three beluga whales.
"It is utmost important that Bella remains in good health condition in order to survive the wild environment," Lotte World aquarium chief Koh Jeong-rack said in a news conference at Lotte World in western Seoul.
He said the 9-year-old female whale is regularly checked by medical staff members from Japan, Taiwan and Russia.
The announcement came after years of criticism from wildlife and animal rights activists that the endangered oceanic creature naturally cannot live healthily in an aquarium.
Lotte World imported Bella with its two male peers from Russia in 2014 for education and studies when it opened the aquarium. But activists claimed that the import was for profit.
The two male whales died in 2016 and 2019, respectively, at the age of 5 and 12, far below the 40-year average span of beluga whales.
Bella is currently going through wildlife adaptation training, prior to being transported to a sanctuary. If the whale adapts well, it will be permanently sent back to its natural habitat, Lotte World said.
Source: Yonhap News Agency