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 157.

    are the Korean people tired of going to japan for their whale steaks?

  • rate this

    Comment number 156.

    "So because we can make things, go into space, etc those things make us superior to other species?"

    Yes that's right - it took you a long time but you got it in the end...

    "Nature will soon take 'her' revenge..."

    If you say so... You know best...

  • rate this

    Comment number 155.

    If South Korea resumes whaling then we resume full diplomatic relations with North Korea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 154.

    144. JamesStGeorge

    Interesting but I am still banking on human dumbness and short-sightedness to prevail.

  • rate this

    Comment number 153.

    Comment 140.ConnorMacLeod
    So because we can make things, go into space, etc those things make us superior to other species? That 'superior' intellect that you so strongly quote is destroying the planet (including superior man!)
    Watch a bird fly, no man-made craft even comes close. A dragonfly, a...need I go on?
    Nature will soon take 'her' revenge...

  • rate this

    Comment number 152.

    Uk government were happy to use military force against opposing marine powers during the Cod Wars. That was done unjustly. Would be a nice redemption to use it to prevent this kind of thing from happening.

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 150.

    # 17 Rebecca Rosenthal
    "UK is about the least environmentally and animal friendly country in the EU"
    It is my understanding that the UK has much higher animal welfare laws than most, if not all, other countries.

  • rate this

    Comment number 149.

    Do HYSers thinks the people of Asia have any interest in our paternalistic opinions? 100 years ago they admired Britain. 50 years ago the US. They see what’s happened since and in no way view us as ‘enlightened’, ‘morally superior’ or ‘progressive’.

    What you are going to do about it? Pay 10% more for electronics made in the UK (if you can find any)? It’s not going to happen.

  • rate this

    Comment number 148.

    Considering the history between South Korea and Japan it seems really strange for South Korea to make this choice. And wrong. You become more like Japan every year.

  • rate this

    Comment number 147.

    to those comparing whales to poultry etc. the latter are farmed and bred for human consumption.

  • rate this

    Comment number 146.

    while I fond the idea of hunting whales abbhorant I think we should worry much more about drift netting.

  • rate this

    Comment number 145.

    The problem is that creatures at the top of the food chain are fewer in number than their prey in normal circumstances, never mind when thoughtless humans kill them for impotence 'cures' , fur coats, 'research' or food (if unregulated). Pigs and cows are reared specially for food so they will not go extinct. Species such as whales are as rare and precious as oil, and sadly as ephemeral.

  • rate this

    Comment number 144.

    Fish and whales suffer from the tragedy of the Commons. No one owns it so you take as much as you can before others do anyway.

    How about we assign ownership of major species to particular nations. Only they have the right to fish any of 'their' fish/whale. Only when it is 'yours' will you care about its viability.

  • rate this

    Comment number 143.

    as much as the liberal green part of me is disgusted by whale hunting, over population, slash and burn attitude to any natural resource by human beings (overfishing, deforestation, devestation mining etc) is a MUCH serious issue than individual cases of cruelty to Flipper

  • rate this

    Comment number 142.

    I often wonder about whale hunters and fishermen in general. They moan when quotas are allocated or new laws are passed and talk about their livelihood and how they will struggle.

    Well, they are going to really struggle when they hunt/fish something into extinction - what about your livelihood now?

    I imagine them asking, "What? how did that happen?"

    Come across as dumb to be honest.

  • rate this

    Comment number 141.

    Why are they allowed to consume the meat if it's for scientific research? That's just stupid. Make it so if a whale is killed for scientific research then the meat cannot be consumed but must be incinerated/disposed of/preserved in formaldehyde once all testing is done. Seems like a pretty basic clause to ensure that any "scientific" fishing is genuinely for scientific purposes.

  • rate this

    Comment number 140.

    My comment 92 said that we still have a lot to learn - hardly an "arrogant" attitude. We are the superior species on earth because...
    We are mentally more advanced than all other species
    We have swiftly evolved to develop tools which put ourselves at the top of the food chain
    We can survive in space, underwater, & extreme conditions on earth's surface.

    & no - I'm not religious.

  • rate this

    Comment number 139.

    117. ProfPhoenix

    "could we hunt and eat human babies, people with severe neurological illnesses?"

    Seriously! This is your argument? You're genuinely incapable of discerning the difference between practising cannibalism on the young and infirm of our own species as compared with eating marine mammals?

    There's no point seeking a rational discussion with someone as inherently irrational as you.

  • rate this

    Comment number 138.

    Man is a killer, therefore it kills.

    Just because we can debate the morality of it doesn't make it any less a natural act than other species killng their prey.


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