Cetaceans, including the largest animal in the world, the blue whale, are marine mammals adapted to the marine environment the best with a thick layer of subcutaneous fat to protect their body temperature. There are about 80 species of Cetacean worldwide including large ones like the gray or blue whale, small whales like the porpoise, baird’s beaked whale and the narwhal with its characteristic long horn.
Whales are often spotted along the coastline of Korea. The blue and fin whales are spotted often as they have natural habitats around the world, and the minke and gray whales are seen as well. Besides these, porpoise and baird’s beaked whales inhabit nearby waters.
Whales are endangered from long term hunting for their oil, meat, and bones, which were all once considered useful resources,. Today, many countries have signed International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling to prevent their extinction.
The word pinniped means ‘the animal that has limbs resembling fins.’ There are 33 types of species including Walruses exhibited at the Aqua Planet Jeju and other sea lions and true seals.
The elephant seal is a pinniped inhabiting the cold coasts of arctic areas. They are colossal mammals with an average length of 3.7 m and a weight of 1.4t. They have been hunted for a long time for their oil producing blubber, meat, and proboscis. In addition, their habitats have been devastated by climate change and the number of species is dropping dramatically.
Also called seals, though they are not true seals, they can more easily move on land than other pinnipeds thanks to their agile back fins. They are distinguished from true seals by their distinct earflaps. It is said that a sea lion called the Dokdo Gangchi used to be seen in Korea. Dokdo was a suitable environment for them as it had plenty of rocks and food to prey on, but they became extinct through overhunting in the early 20th century. Recently, a lot of effort has been put into restoring sea lion habitats and there is occasional news about sea lions being spotted in Korea.
True seals mostly inhabit cold arctic areas. They have evolved a streamlined shape with short limbs and fins that function like paddles. They move on land, bouncing along on their bellies. In Korea, the harbor seal, can be observed. It was designated natural monument number 331. The harbor seals spend spring and fall on Baekryung-do in the west sea and leave for China in the winter.
The otter is an indicator of healthy waters in rivers, marshlands, and oceans. They have adapted well to marine life, with waterproof fur and webbed feet enabling them to swim without problems. Their nose and ears close to prevent water from coming in while they are swimming.
They are protected as they have become an endangered species due to overhunting and pollution. However, there is still the problem of poaching and destruction of their habitats in many developing countries.
In some countries, otters are hunted for medicine, and their skin is traditionally used for making clothing. Sometimes they cause problems, stealing fish from fishermen’s nets. In some African countries, otters are poisoned as a side effect of a fishing method that uses poison to catch fish.
There have been some side effects in the efforts to reverse the decreasing number of otters. Europe is doing its utmost to restore otters, but the side effect of a high death rate for released otters arose, as they were released too hastily.
Eurasian otters populate Korea and have been designated natural monument 330 and an endangered species level 1.
This is a classic flightless bird, comprising about 20 species worldwide. They have been referred to as the ‘gentlemen of the South Pole’, for their formal suit-like coloring, but not all inhabit arctic areas. They populate areas ranging from Australia and South America to Africa.
Like many other wild animals, many species of penguin have become endangered after losing their natural habitat due to environmental pollution. The number of the penguins living in the Antarctic is rapidly decreasing as the environment is altered due to climate change. For example, when it rains in the Antarctic instead of snowing , the young adelie penguins without proper coats to protect their bodies are freezing to death as they can’t maintain their body temperatures.
Korea is putting in great effort to protect penguins as their Antarctic habitat is lost. Through the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Party, or ATCP, it was determined that Korea would manage organisms, including penguins, living on the coastal hills near King Sejong Station. This region is the largest Chinstrap Penguin habitat, and King Sejong Station will assume the following roles:
- Monitoring of the ecosystem as a managing country leading scientific research and environmental protection for the penguin community
- Prohibiting acts of bringing in living organisms
Prohibiting acts of capturing or collecting indigenous living organisms without permits
In many areas of the world, including Korea, a lot of efforts is being put into preventing penguins from becoming extinct.
There are currently 7 species of sea turtles in the world. Female turtles return to shore after mating and dig holes on the beach to lay eggs. Gender is determined by the temperature of the hole prior to hatching. More female turtles are hatched when the temperature is high. It takes 2 months for the turtles to hatch and they instinctively migrate to the sea after hatching.
Sea turtles play an important role in the marine ecosystem. For example, Green sea turtles continuously eat seaweed off of marine rocks, helping seaweed fields flourish. These thick, healthy seaweed fields then provide habitats for a variety of marine organisms enriching the whole ecosystem.
5 of the 7 species of sea turtles are categorized as endangered or critically endangered on the IUCN Red List. In Korea, 4 species, green, loggerhead, and leatherback sea turtles, have been newly designated in 2013, as Marine Organisms Subject to Protection by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries.
The seahorse and sea dragon appear to be of the same species, but each has many differing characteristics. There are a number of species of seahorse in the world, but the sea dragon inhabits only the seaweed fields of the Northern and Southern coastlines of Australia.
Seahorses have been used as medicine in China and other areas influenced by Chinese culture for a long time . They have been intensely harvested to meet the great demand and the number of seahorses has been rapidly decreasing since the 1990s. In 2004, all seahorse species were included in the CITES animal list for protection, but there is still continued illegal trading of seahorses.
In Korea, the spiny seahorse and Common seahorse were newly designated in 2012 as Marine Organisms Subject to Protection.
Sea Dragons have been targets of collectors, as they are used for medicine. Newly hatched dragons move very slowly and are easily attacked by predators, resulting in very small numbers reaching adulthood. Their habitats are becoming polluted and their numbers are further dropping as a result. This rare species is only found along the coastlines of Australia and therefore, exports are strongly prohibited by the Australian government.
There are a variety of sharks in the world, numbering over 400 different species, with about 40 species populating the coastal waters of Korea. Fully grown sharks can range in size from 16cm, to the whale shark at 18m.
People have traditionally feared these marine predators for their reputation as remorseless hunters and their ferocious appearance. However, sharks do not typically attack humans, but rather, have been endangered by human activity. In fact, the ratio of humans killed by sharks to sharks killed by humans in different ways, is 1 to 2 million.
They are mostly hunted for their fins. The amount of shark fins sold as food is beyond, imagination, with one thousand sharks are killed a year for this purpose alone. Their fins are removed, and they are thrown back into the water injured. Such sharks cannot swim or breathe without their fins, and die as a result.
The whale shark is the biggest fish on earth, but is gentle and moves slowly, making them vulnerable to extinction through overhunting. Although they are protected by CITES, there is still a huge market for them as food in East Asian Countries ,including Taiwan and the Philippines.
As a Ex-situ Conservation Institute, Aqua Planet is putting its utmost efforts into the protection and conservation of sharks including the whale sharks.