Thanks to the wildly popular K-drama Extraordinary Attorney Woo Yeong Woo, the global awareness of whales and dolphins has increased significantly.
In South Korea, much awareness has been raised on dolphins held in captivity in aquariums and for performance of live shows, especially with release of Ep 13 and 14 where Young-woo and her gang of friends and colleagues went on a business trip to Jeju island.
Jedol (제돌), Chunsam (춘삼) and Sampal (삼팔) were the first dolphins in South Korea and Asia to be returned to the wild.
Since 2012, a total of eight dolphins were kept in captivity but seven have since been released back to the seas in these years — 2013 (Jedol, Chunsam, Sampal), 2015 (Taesan, Boksun) and 2017 (Geumdeung, Daepo). The last dolphin in captivity is Bibong who is currently undergoing a five-stage marine release program before its eventual release to the wild.
According to Woo Young-woo, they are Indo-Pacific bottlenose dolphins and can often be sighted swimming near the seas of Daejeong-eup, Seowipo-si in Jeju island, along with their babies. Indo-pacific bottlenose dolphins can live up to 40 years of age and grow to a length of 2.6m (8.5 feet) with a weight of up to 230kg.
The haenyeos (traditional female divers) of Jeju often dive in the waters near Seowipo-si and the dolphins are said to help keep the waters safe from sharks, driving them away with their large pods of twenty to thirty dolphins.
The main threat facing these wild dolphins today are primarily "eco-tourism" boat tours that promote dolphin sighting. Tour boats that chase after these dolphins may inadvertently cause them stress and injuries.
Fortunately, in May 2022, the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries officially announced an Ecosystem Guardian program to safeguard the dolphins, and to train and regulate dolphin tour boats to maintain safe distances when observing dolphins at sea.
In Episode 12, Young Woo mentioned the Yangtze River Dolphin in reference to activist lawyer Ryu Jae-sook who fought against Hanbada in a gender discrimination case at Mir Life.
Also known as the "Goddess of the Yangtze", the Yangtze River Dolphin was traditionally revered as the goddess of protection in the waters for local fishermen and boatmen. However due to indiscriminate hunting, pollution and loss of habitat, its dolphin population has gone dangerously to near-extinction levels. At one point in the mid-1990s, the total number of Yangtze River Dolphins in existence was thought to be less than 10.
Lawyer Ryu Jae-sook stood as an icon of protection against unfair practices, and Young-woo felt that a passionate lawyer for righteous causes was as rare as the Yangtze River Dolphin and hoped that such individuals would not go extinct just like the dolphins.
In the story of the Pied Piper in Episode 9, we witnessed a deject-looking killer whale with drooping dorsal fins hovering passively in same courtroom as Young-woo.
The collapsed dorsal fin syndrome happens to adult orcas (killer whales) that are kept in captivity. As their captive environment is a small tank compared to its natural vast ocean habitat, the whales are unable to swim freely, much less sprint and knife though the waters with a vigorous dorsal fin. Instead, they spend most of the time floating listlessly around the tank, resulting in the collapsed dorsal fin over time.
The use of a drooped-fin orca is a pointed reference to the oppressed children under the harsh and strict academic system today that pushes children to study till late and disregards proper diet and bodily needs. As a result, instead of having a vigorous, free and happy childhood, children are just hanging on spiritlessly with a deflated will, struggling to cope with the stresses of education.
In episode 2, Woo Young-soo shared with us (or rather Jun-ho) her immense knowledge on the largest living thing on Earth .. ever — the Blue Whale.
She wondered why despite mankind's illustrious achievements, no one has yet been able to see a blue whale give birth. When sipping ice latte with Jun-ho at a cafe, Young-woo shared that a blue whale mother produces 200kg of milk every day — and high-fat milk (30-50% fat) at that. After six months of consuming such high-fat milk, a blue whale calf will gain a whopping 17 tonnes of weight.
Young-woo was also amazed at the circle of life brought about by blue whale faeces. Blue whale faeces is red in color due to its primary daily diet of large amounts of krills, which are red in color. A blue whale can eat up to four tonnes of krill every day.
According to Young-woo, blue whales feed in the deep ocean and rise to excrete on the surface of the sea. In other words, through the excretory process, it pulls nutrients from the deep corners of the ocean and distributes the nutrients at the ocean surface for consumption by other marine life such as phytoplankton.
Well, that's the beginning of Woo Young-woo's adventures at Hanbada Law Firm and the first time Young-woo regaled us, or in this case Attorney Jung, with interesting whale facts.
The first whale that Young-woo introduced in detail is the sperm whale, also know as the cachalot (i learnt this name for the first time from the show) 😅
She explained that the reason why sperm whales looked the way they look and are named as such is due to a spermaceti (a form of liquid wax) organ inside its gigantic square-ish head. The spermaceti organ can hold up to 1,900 litres of spermaceti.
Unfortunately, spermaceti is a highly sought-after substance which is used to make cosmetics, lamp oil, leather waterproofing and lubricants and this led to sperm whales being hunted relentlessly. Today, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) classifies the sperm whale as being a "vulnerable" species.
You may interested in another hit K-drama of 2022 — Our Blues that we love dearly. We have created an "Our Blues"-themed Jeju island map that helps you discover the scenic filming locations of Our Blues at the island itself — from the Hallim Five-day Market to the haenyeos' diving site to the Pacific Rim Peace Beach. Check it out 🥽.