South Korea unveils 'scientific' whaling proposal

 

Australia's Prime Minister Julia Gillard and New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully give their reaction (whaling footage courtesy of Greenpeace)

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South Korea is proposing to hunt whales under regulations permitting scientific research whaling, echoing the programmes of its neighbour, Japan.

Hunting would take place near the Korean coast on minke whales. How many would be caught is unclear.

The South Korean delegation to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) said the research was needed "for the proper assessment of whale stocks".

Many governments at the IWC meeting condemned the Korean announcement.

There are several different stocks, or groups, of minke whales in the region, and one of the them, the so-called J-stock, is severely depleted.

Given that fact, "we believe that scientific whaling on this stock borders on the reckless," New Zealand's delegation head, Gerard van Bohemen said.

But Joon-Suk Kang, the head of the South Korean delegation, said the programme was necessary to answer questions about minke whale stocks that non-lethal research had been unable to solve.

The Legalities of Whaling

  • Objection - A country formally objects to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) moratorium, declaring itself exempt. Example: Norway
  • Scientific - A nation issues unilateral "scientific permits"; any IWC member can do this. Example: Japan
  • Indigenous (also known as Aboriginal subsistence) - IWC grants permits to indigenous groups for subsistence food. Example: Alaskan Inupiat

He said the proposal was not finalised, and that whaling would not begin until plans had been discussed by an international group of expert scientists convened by the IWC.

The Koreans' eventual stated aim is to prepare the ground for a resumption of "coastal whaling" - a rather vague concept that Japan is also pursuing, and that would see whale hunting return as a normal activity.

'Breach of faith'

The region around the port of Ulsan, in the south-east of South Korea, has a whale-eating tradition that appears to date back thousands of years, judging by prehistoric cave art.

Fishermen in the region already catch whales in fishing nets. Officially, this happens accidentally, but local environment groups say the minkes are deliberately caught, and that the meat is easily bought in markets and restaurants.

Dr Kang said that fishermen in the area are now complaining that a growing whale population is eating more and more fish.

Any government is entitled under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) to embark unilaterally on a scientific hunting programme, although Japan is the only one that currently does so.

Minke whale poking its head out of the water (file photo) Some minke whale stocks around South Korea are already severely depleted

Anti-whaling governments and conservation groups argue that Japan's programmes in the North Pacific and Antarctic are an abuse of process, as the regulation was originally designed to allow for the taking of a few whales here and there, and not hundreds per year.

They argue that the real purpose is to provide a supply of whale meat, albeit to a dwindling customer base.

"Scientific whaling is an obsolete and sad consequence of a document drafted 60 years ago," said Monaco's IWC commissioner, Frederic Briand.

"There's no reason to do it, given the enormous body of scientific literature [on cetaceans] obtained via non-lethal means."

South Korea was one of the first countries to take the scientific whaling route after the global moratorium on commercial hunting came into place in 1986, but the programme was in operation for just a single season.

Then, the country came under intense diplomatic pressure to stop, and Dr Kang admitted to BBC News that his government is now likely to feel a similarly huge pressure not to start.

However, Korea, Japan, Iceland and Norway all complain regularly that anti-whaling governments have no intention of ever agreeing to a resumption of hunting anywhere, however healthy the stocks, and that this amounts to a breach of promises made when the moratorium came into existence.

Troubled waters

Earlier, Japan lodged a proposal to allow coastal whaling by four villages around the coast - among them Ayukawa, which was devastated by the 2011 tsunami.

It has tabled similar bids for many years, and they have always been defeated by anti-whaling governments, who view the move as a way of breaking the whaling moratorium.

Here, Australia's Donna Petrochenko was one of many taking the same line, telling the meeting: "This is commercial whaling, clear and simple."

Japan put its proposal to one side and it will be discussed again later in the meeting, although it is doubtful whether it will go to a vote, given that Japan clearly does not have the three-quarters share of the vote it would need to win.

 

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  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 180.

    The whole world has different views on what is acceptable to eat and we will never all agree.
    All animal slaughters should be humane as possible, but it also matters what sort of life the animal had.
    In the UK we have animals that never see daylight! Surely a big ocean is about as free-range as it can get!?
    While the hunting is sustainable I don't think anyone has a leg to stand on to criticise

  • rate this
    +6

    Comment number 158.

    I cannot see any problem with eating Whale meat as long as the stocks are at sustainable levels.
    I cannot see a problem with the Chinese eating dogs and cats or the Thai people eating fried maggots. As long as the slaughter is humane. Explosive harpoons kill the whale instantly so this hunting seems fine.
    I know certain cultures are reviled by us eating cows and pigs.

  • rate this
    +3

    Comment number 151.

    It's about time this legal loophole was closed, lets call a spade a spade they are hunting whales for their meat and blubber nothing more, and everybody knows it is as so, scientific research would be laughable if it wasn't such a serious issue. Some serious international pressure needs to be exerted before these beautiful creatures are gone from our oceans forever.....

  • rate this
    +7

    Comment number 86.

    I think that the change needs to be a cultural one - people seem to respond far more readily to this than to laws imposed on them from external sources. Anti whaling organisations should try to enlist Japanese & Korean actors, pop stars, tv celebrities and journalists to speak out against eating whale meat. If it became "socially unacceptable" to eat whale meat, the problem would be solved.

  • rate this
    +2

    Comment number 85.

    I hate whale hunting as much as anyone but I like to think about things like this objectively.

    I eat meat and I eat fish as do many other people. You don't see the killing of cows, pigs, lambs etc making headlines so is it just the way whales are hunted that's the problem? Would it be any better if they were killed in a more humane way?

    People also eat duck, pheasant, pigeon. What about them?

 

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