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 97.

    Any country not actively boycotting those countries that continue the slaughter not only of whales, but Dolphins as well is as guilty as a spectator watching the murder of someone without even trying to interfere or to get help.More info about this on:

  • rate this

    Comment number 96.

    So what knowledge can be gained from harpooning a whale, cutting it up into small peaces and then selling it for money, Scientific research my ass.

  • rate this

    Comment number 95.

    I think the difference from other forms of meat-eating - and that's what "scientific" whaling is all about, is that whale hunting is particularly brutal and unnecessary. With the Japanese it's as much about an assertion of nationalism as much as anything.

  • rate this

    Comment number 94.

    "What have whales ever done for us?" There's no reason why they should have to do anything for us! Does that mean that they shouldn't live? Ever heard of Copernicus? ie the Earth and therefore our species is not the centre of it all. Yet many in our species still - and the political and economic systems - are still wedded to species narcissism. Survival's one thing, commercial exploitation another

  • rate this

    Comment number 93.

    Is Greenpeace still active, is it interested in this? Or is it more interested in saving the planet and attending big conferences in posh hotels? I would love to criticise the killing of whales by S Korea, but fear prosecution for racism.

  • rate this

    Comment number 92.

    You are making a big mistake in equating wanton killing (which I do not support) with having a strong survival instinct (which I do support).

    There is nothing arrogant in "considering" man to be a superior species. Man is THE superior species now, in the same way that the dinosaurs were the superior species from Jurassic to Cretaceous. We've made some mistakes,but we're learning...

  • rate this

    Comment number 91.

    Comment 85. If you aren't aware of the killing of domestic animals for food making the headlines, you can't read the news very often!
    There's also the impact intense farming inflicts on the environment. Pollution, waste...the list is endless.

  • rate this

    Comment number 90.

    85 Delbhoy82 - You can see an interesting parallel when it comes to horsemeat. Our culture tends to see the eating of horsemeat as taboo, whereas the French are perplexed as to why we are fine with eating cows & pigs, but not horses.
    Considering the animals we eat, I couldn't be against sustainable, humane killing of whales for food. Unfortunately, that is not what’s happening in the Far East.

  • rate this

    Comment number 89.

    "Scientific research whaling" is as lame an excuse as the guy caught stealing half a dozen watches in a store and then saying he forgot to pay, hahaha!
    First of all, everything about wales is already known, and if there was a need for more "scientific research" the desired and already gained results could be shared with the other marauding "Scientists" from countries like Japan.

  • rate this

    Comment number 88.

    What is it about whales that people get up in arms about them being killed. If it`s because of low stocks that i can understand, but because they`re "beautiful" or "intelligent"? Beauty is in the eye of the beholder and while they`re not ugly, beautiful is perhaps an emotional response. Yes, whales are intelligent but also considered intelligent are rats, pigeons, crows, pigs and squirrels.

  • rate this

    Comment number 87.

    Comment 81... Again the arrogance of man in considering himself to be be superior shines through. Where do you get those feelings of superiority from? Could it be because man CAN kill so easily? (fellow man too) Or that you and others with this attitude haven't yet psychologically advanced?
    That attitude could spell the end for all of us. Look at the mess we're making of the planet. Superior?

  • rate this

    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

    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?

  • rate this

    Comment number 84.

    It is time for the UN (HA HA) to be given the endorsement to sink any ship seen whaling It is time the rest of the world showed, forcibly, that we will not accept this destruction some of the most intelligent creatures on earth. Perhaps the civilised nations, which they are not, should be given carte blanche to kill so many of the nations involved, purely for scientific reasons of course.

  • rate this

    Comment number 83.

    If you disagree with what South Korea are proposing you can do 2 things about it.
    1. Stop buying their goods.
    2. Give support to organsisations campaigning against it (e.g buy the T shirt)
    Personally I will be doing both.

  • rate this

    Comment number 82.

    This is an utterly disgraceful move. The South Koreans should know better. Whaling is offensive and needless. Even the Japanese are doing less whaling now as demand for its 'Scientific' meat has dropped.

    End all whaling now please.

  • rate this

    Comment number 81.

    Comment 68... Do you honestly believe your life is more important than another animal?

    I think you will find that 99.99% of people in the world believe that their life IS more important than that of an animal.
    Since you think otherwise, please feel free to join the queue (with the 0.01%) for the "Darwin Awards"...

  • rate this

    Comment number 80.

    2 Hours ago

    Minke are baleen whales, and eat krill not fish!!!


    It`s true that Minke whales eat krill but it`s not their only diet. Off the west coast of Scotland minke whales lunge feed on small shoaling fish such as herring and sprat. Having relatives there we have often seen this while on holiday.

  • rate this

    Comment number 79.

    In all honesty, this should be made illegal. There is more than enough food on this planet to not have to kill (in the hundreds) a live, intelligent species. When are those people in power going to use the power invested in them for the good of this planet? Greed is a distructive and very powerful force and should be seen in its true form! surely it's time to do the right thing, right the wrongs

  • rate this

    Comment number 78.

    People say it should be like this or like that, but how can any rules be enforced? Even if the IWC says it must be so, any country who didn't like it would just leave the IWC.

    Short of the UN security council endorsing the rules and member states sinking whaling ships, economic and social pressure is all we can do.

    At least my new laptop is Tiwanese and I don't have to call up Amazon and cancel.


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