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

    Comment number 37.

    When I was 16, I went whaling with Salvesens and was sickened with the deaths of these creatures. I went cos I needed the money & Salvesen stopped cos they couldn't compete with Japan. Again a question of money. We stopped for money. It's very nice to have other ethical ideas on trade and what we should do but money talks and they only understand money. So Big bang for Galaxy and no big bucks.

  • rate this

    Comment number 36.

    Im liking north Korea more and more

  • rate this

    Comment number 35.

    If you like me don't like whaling, less direct Government action, there is only one thing we can do. - Don't buy Hyundai and Kia cars, Samsung TV's, phones, computers etc, etc.

  • rate this

    Comment number 34.

    What are they trying to study? How many whales they can kill and how much can they sell them for?

  • rate this

    Comment number 33.

    @25. Consider how it's done. If cattle or sheep were killed for food by firing a harpoon into them and then letting them run around the field until they die, I think I'd turn veggie.
    If it didn't happen out at sea, away from most eyes, the condemnation would be much greater.

    Boycott their exports!

  • rate this

    Comment number 32.

    Enough euphamisms - its not "scientific research", its killing a sentient creature, in this case Whales, for profit. Although I'm anything but a bleeding heart liberal, this practise does disgust me, especially since they dress it up in the name of science.

  • rate this

    Comment number 31.

    I live in Denmark, we hunt whales, I believe wrongly, they are an endagered species & should be protected, some might say it's our culture, but that is no excuse, if that is so, then why not bring back slavery? That is wrong too, just becuase it's in ones history does not make it right! It's my belief that a TOTAL ban should be in place, & economic reprocussions if broken.

  • Comment number 30.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 29.

    2. Healthfreak

    "Dr Kang said that fishermen in the area are now complaining that a growing whale population is eating more and more fish" - Minke are baleen whales, and eat krill not fish!!!


    Actually they do eat small fish, as do many baleen whales. However this is simply being used to justify the start of whaling for profit and it's time a stronger international stance was taken.

  • rate this

    Comment number 28.

    17.Rebecca Rosenthal

    we could also remember that UK is about the least environmentally and animal friendly country in the EU

    ? Ranked 14th greenest country in the world. Listed by CITES as an animal friendly country. First country in the world to recognise animals as sentient beings.You need to get your facts right.

  • rate this

    Comment number 27.

    Japan, China, the Koreas, Malaysia, Burma, Indonesia, Thailand. What they all have in common is an utter disregard for animal, and often human, rights and a cavalier attitude to the environment. They demonstrate nothing that we in the west would recognise as morality. Or is that being politically incorrect? We send the military to rob states of their oil but we cannot protect the vulnerable.

  • rate this

    Comment number 26.

    Is this so called, "Scientific whaling," the same things as studying them them cramming them down their throats? There are plenty of people who study whales without undertaking the latter.

  • rate this

    Comment number 25.

    To be clear, I firmly believe that any species that is endangered should not be hunted.

    But if a species is not endangered, and people want to eat it, I'm not sure why they shouldn't be able to hunt it.

    Hindus won't eat beef and Muslims won't eat pork and the West couldn't care less. But most of the West doesn't approve of eating whale meat and the World has to fall into line. Double standards!?

  • Comment number 24.

    All this user's posts have been removed.Why?

  • Comment number 23.

    This comment was removed because the moderators found it broke the house rules. Explain.

  • rate this

    Comment number 22.

    What's needed are some laws on the fate of the meat from whales killed for 'research'. Make it that the meat can't be consumed by humans. I'm betting the Japanese, Koreans and all the others who kill Wales for science would suddenly stop doing so.

  • rate this

    Comment number 21.

    Isn’t it significant that the two of the most prosperous nations in the Pacific area have to resort resort to slaughtering one of natures most harmless and endangered creatures?
    Truly sickening and it alas it does show a trait of their character.

  • rate this

    Comment number 20.

    One day news breaks of great scientific success at the pinnacle of human endeavour and you start to feel quite good about humans. Then a story like this comes out, telling of people cowering behind science to justify animal slaughter. One step forward, two steps back.

  • rate this

    Comment number 19.

    What a cute ad for Nokia. "We like whales". Wonder if they might use it to "il..Lumina..te there revival with it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 18.

    If S. Korea go ahead with this I will boycott products made by S. Korean companies as I do now do for Japanese companies.


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