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 117.

    105.Paul Lewis
    If it turns out that whales are no more intelligent than pigs or horses ...if a humane method of hunting them is developed by those wanting to eat them..
    @ Is intelligence the yardstick for not hunting and eating? Apart from politicians could we hunt and eat human babies, people with severe neurological illnesses?Welfarists get this wrong also when they appeal to sentience

  • rate this

    Comment number 116.

    I don't see what the big deal is about people who like to eat whales, as long as their not hunted into (near) extinction, seems to me like Westerners trying to impose their values on Easterners again

  • rate this

    Comment number 115.

    "Scientific research".

    That's what Herr Doktor Mengele called his work as well.

  • rate this

    Comment number 114.

    All of you well-doers wanting to avoid Korean products are going to have to go without anything Apple either (iPhone, iPad), since Samsung provides key components to all of those. And other Korean/Japanese firms provide multitude of tech. to almost every conceivable industry. and if you don't like it, there's always China (human rights) or Israel (undeclared nukes and Palestinian occupation).

  • rate this

    Comment number 113.

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

    Try COUNTING and/or TAGGING them then.

    Or have the slightest shred of integrity and honesty and stop pretending its "for research".

  • rate this

    Comment number 112.

    Also bear in mind that the brutality of whaling - whether behind a masquerade of the label 'scientific' (whatever that means) - is far from the only horrendous abuse of animals. Just think of factory farming. We must consider all of the abuses of animals and the environment, whether done in Korea, Japan, the West or anywhere else and support local environmental and animal welfare groups

  • rate this

    Comment number 111.

    Whale meat is full of Mercury and other Toxins.

    I wouldn't eat it and would be reluctant to even feed it to a pet.

    Forget ethical considerations Whale Meat is barely fit for human consumption.

  • rate this

    Comment number 110.

    Another country to add to my boycott list.

    Actually I boycott South Korean goods anyway boiling Cats and Dogs alive in the stupid belief that the more they suffer, the tastier the meat!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 109.

    Whale hunting happened in the past and for good reasons. For a huge amount of food, using the bones constructively and the massive amount of fat and subsequent oil that could be used for fuel.
    Today we do not need their bones and fat for fuel or construction/tool purposes and no one relies on eating whales apart from, it would seem, small isolated groups in the Soloman Islands.

  • rate this

    Comment number 108.

    Before one automatically goes Korea-bashing, please remember that just because a political representative decides to support so-called scientific whaling, that does not mean that every single (South) Korean supports whaling - and incidentally, not all Koreans eat dog: in fact, some Koreans, including the Buddhist monks, are vegetarian.

  • rate this

    Comment number 107.

    One of the reasons many people find whale hunting obscene is because they are intelligent animals.
    I personally find the idea of killing animals and eating their bodies quite unacceptable. But doing this to whales and other higher level animals (e.g. monkeys) engenders a revulsion in many. Do we need to hunt them anyway - there is hardly a shortage of food in the world overall.

  • rate this

    Comment number 106.

    It is this simple: I own a Hyundai car and a Samsung phone. I am due to replace them this year. If South Korea goes through with its decision to resume whale hunting, my next car and phone will not be korean. I already boycott Japanese cars and consumer electronics precisely for this reason. My options as a consumer would become substantiallly fewer, but this is my small contribution to wildlife

  • rate this

    Comment number 105.

    73. swerdna
    69.Paul Lewis
    63. swerdna

    "Whale hunting should be outlawed - period"

    If it turns out that whales are no more intelligent than pigs or horses and if their numbers aren't endangered and if a humane method of hunting them is developed by those wanting to eat them, who are you to say otherwise?

  • rate this

    Comment number 104.

    Australia and New Zealand Governments are ethically objecting.
    It will be interesting to see if our tree mashing, fox hunting, "Greenest Government Ever" come up with anything

  • rate this

    Comment number 103.

    Can these creatures be left alone! Crikey, pollution and other man made gadgets are having a dire effect on numbers....Why not eat TOFU or whatever......

  • rate this

    Comment number 102.

    The South Koreans want to hunt whales for food, not for scientific research, unless this is to determine if one whale tastes better than another. After all the whales killed, and presumably eaten, by the Japanese for scientific research, there can't be any new research needed. The whales get killed, cut up and eaten. Research done.

  • rate this

    Comment number 101.

    We need an effective commons agreement on whaling and fishing waters properly proscribed and enforced by policing bodies; that way fishermen will seek to modify their fishing behaviour based on their availability.

    We should get an idea on populations of these creatures for that reason; just not sure killing them is necessary but I'm not a whale expert - thoughts?

  • rate this

    Comment number 100.

    People keep talking about cows and pigs etc but we breed those and keep the population going.

    We kill whales and oh yes that's it, we kill them and in a very cruel way.

    There is a difference. We are not farming these creatures we are making them extinct.

    I know people need to live but there must be a better way of than this.

    Social unacceptability is the way forward. see 86

  • rate this

    Comment number 99.

    As a fellow east asian person, sometimes I also don't quite understand what countries like Japan and now even Korea trying to prove here. It seems that S.Korea try to follow what Japan were /are doing too much! I've NEVER HEARD OF eating whale meat is part of Korean's culture before. And the truth is most Japanese today do not eat whale meat WHATSOEVER! Just give the sea mammals a break!

  • Comment number 98.

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


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