[VIEWPOINT]Let dolphins come to the Han River

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[VIEWPOINT]Let dolphins come to the Han River

There once lived a very curious dolphin in the sea off the coast of Gimpo, Gyeonggi province. The dolphin wanted to leave the West Sea and swim to the upper stream of the Han River.
The dolphin’s ancestors moved from the land to the sea a long time ago. Perhaps the dolphin’s wish originates from an instinct to go back to the original home of its species.
But there was a large obstacle: sluice gates and a dam built under Gimpo Bridge, where the seawater meets the river water. It tried many times to swim over the dam, but failed.
One day it rained hard and the seawater rose above the dam along with a high tide and flowed over to the Han River. The dolphin rode on the tide along with other smaller fish.
Once it swam into the river, the dolphin smoothly made its way up from Gimpo Bridge to Haengju Bridge to Gayang Bridge to Mapo Bridge and so on.
There were more than enough fish in the Han River for the dolphin to live on.
There were shrimp, carp, bass and various other kinds of fish. The dolphin sometimes met the eyes of people on bridges when it put its round yet flat head above the water to breathe.
The salt content in the water became lower the more the dolphin went upstream. Breathing was getting difficult and its fins didn’t move smoothly. A scar on its stomach from being scratched by something started to fester.
The dolphin tried to go back to the sea, but could not find the direction because it was in severe pain. It also became difficult for the dolphin to generate supersonic waves.
As the wound grew bigger, the dolphin could not move as it wished or even swallow food. Just as it was about to stop breathing, it reached the riverbank. It died on the land, the original home of its species.
This is a fairy tale based on a real story.
A dead dolphin was actually found on the riverbank near Banpo Bridge around 20 days ago. It was a kind of a harbor porpoise.
The carcass was moved to the Conservation Genome Resource Bank for Korean Wildlife.
An investigation into the cause of the dolphin’s death is still underway.
But the provisional result revealed the following: “There are no signs of attack from a third party to kill the dolphin, and there is a big fester on the stomach. It seems that the dolphin had difficulty in using its supersonic wave.”
The above story combines those results with my own imagination. The fact that a dolphin was found in the Han River is a surprise.
There is a record in “The Chronicles of King Taejong” of the Joseon Dynasty that a harbor porpoise was found in the Han River.
But this is the first time since 1948 that a dolphin was confirmed to be in the river that runs through Seoul.
The fact that a dolphin made its way up to the river means that the numbers of endangered species in the West Sea have increased.
Dolphins have actually been frequently been seen in the estuary of the Han River and near Lake Sihwa, where the Geum River meets the West Sea.
The appearance of the dolphins, which are at the top of the food chain in the sea, is also a sign of revival of the ecosystem.
Recently, other rare species have been spotted in the Han River.
Mackerel pike, blowfish, eel, caviar fish and even golden mandarin fish, designated as an endangered species, have made appearances.
The number of fish species that live in the Han River has increased from 21 in 1990 to 57 in 2002.
An official at the Han River Park Administrative Center said, “Every time we investigate, we are surprised to find unexpected rare species.”
The Han River is a symbol of development. Ever since the “Han River Development Project” was carried out, mobilizing 4.2 million man-days in four years from 1982 to 1986, worries over drought and flooding dropped drastically.
But the river was far from being the symbol of the ecosystem. It was a dreary river with no fish or birds. The recent return of rare species to the Han River is a sign of the river’s revival.
If we use this opportunity well, we will be able to turn the Han River into a “symbol of the ecosystem” with a greater abundance of living things than any other river that flows through a capital city in the world.
I ask the candidates for the Seoul mayoral election to make public pledges on a plan to revive the ecosystem of the river.
We have to be prepared to welcome the nature that is returning to us.
I imagine the scene of myself watching a group of dolphins jumping up above the water with pleasure 20 years from now, holding my granddaughter’s hand at the Gimpo Bridge.

* The writer is the investigative editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Kyu-youn
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