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 197.

    We shouldn't steal from the wild, wild animals have it hard enough as it is. If you want to eat food you should farm it yourself.

    Even if farmed animals do have a worse life - that is our fault and we should do better at farming - not take other things for free.

  • rate this

    Comment number 196.

    Just a note to those people panicking about Minke Whales going extinct, their Conservation status is listed as of "Least Concern"

  • Comment number 195.

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

  • rate this

    Comment number 194.

    scientific research whaling. . . . Not being funny but what is there left to learn about a whale anatomy any way?! there has been many dead whales washed on beaches for many years that they couldnt study from! this is just a poor excuse to kill. Just like the excuse for experimenting products on cats and dogs,rats and mice etc! they already know what happens they just want to keep doing.why?

  • rate this

    Comment number 193.

    I really cannot understand why they would even think of this. South Korea has a huge and successful export industry. If they start hunting whales then many people will boycott their products.

    This idea makes no sense. I can only assume politics is behind it.

  • rate this

    Comment number 192.

    Has Japan ever published any results of its so called research?

  • rate this

    Comment number 191.

    187.V Parks
    These Do-Gooders want to impose their values and eating habits onto others. As long as there is ample supply, this source should be harvested for traditional food,
    ""Harvesting"" is it? – I say! What a civilised word for what is simply a bloody & painful slaughter.
    A diet of rats is more apt for such, and FYI, there sure is an ample supply to satisfy even their needs.

  • rate this

    Comment number 190.

    Personally I think we should kill more. Therefore more of the non washing, cardigan wearing, dope smoking unemployed tree huggers will board ships and 'fight' the Whalers; Using illegal tactics half the time might I add.

    What do Whales bring to the table anyway?

  • rate this

    Comment number 189.

    The main problem with whale hunting, is simply that it is a hunting. Most people have no arguments if the animals are farmed for their meat, it's when they are removed from a wild breeding population that problems are created. Particularly a species that has a very slow reproduction rate.

  • rate this

    Comment number 188.

    Isn't it pretty disgusting that the counties keenest on the continuance of the slaughter of the whales are also amongst the ones with the highest standards of living and education?
    I mean Norway, Japan, S Korea and Iceland – SHAME ON YOU!
    What in heavens name is their excuse!!!

  • rate this

    Comment number 187.

    These Do-Gooders want to impose their values and eating habits onto others. As long as there is ample supply, this source should be harvested for traditional food,

  • rate this

    Comment number 186.

    So the Japanese war on marine wildlefe continues.

    Not only have they decided to fish Blue Fin Tuna into extinction, they've now persuaded one of their allies to join the war on whales.

    Somebody should tell them that the Tsunami wasn't the fishes fault...

  • rate this

    Comment number 185.

    I did not expect to read about another country supporting this ludicrous loophole of 'scientific' hunting.

    Everybody knows they're in decline, and if humans don't stop eating them at the rate that they do, they will be gone, so as far as i am concerned South Korea and Japan are both deciding to make whales extinct, this is their decision and it appauls me.

    Very disappointed in South Korea.

  • rate this

    Comment number 184.

    I've just been notified that my pretty moderate posting on this subject, where I stated I would no longer consider buying certain brands of car, has been removed on the grounds that it was objectionable.
    At least I've a choice over the make of car I buy, unlike the BBC licence fee where I've no choice, even if I don't wish to watch their programmes!

  • rate this

    Comment number 183.

    I think so many missed the point of my post! I think it's barbaric along with others.

    My point was that most of you seem fine with the breeding of animals purely for food. If we could breed whales for food and kill them more humanely - would you have a problem with that?

    After seeing how KFC source their chickens, I refused to eat their food.

    If some of you are so passionate, be vegetarians!

  • rate this

    Comment number 182.

    Hey BBC, can you please sort out the HYS please.

    Someone else appears to be posting with the same name as me.

    I can't believe your software does not prevent 2 or more people from using the same name.

  • rate this

    Comment number 181.

    158 Ppuj

    'Explosive harpoons kill the whale instantly .... '

    Not a valid reason for killing magnificent, intelligent animals even if it was correct, but it isn't. Figures from Japanese whalers show that around 45% are considered instant kills. In the other cases the whale is left to thrash around for a while to see if it's worth another harpoon, or they are 'finished off' with rifle fire.

  • rate this

    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

    Comment number 179.

    "I won't be buying from Samsung again, then - or any other product from S.Korea. Pity. Apple will do well from this."

    If you buy Apple you're usually buying Chinese, who skin cats and dogs alive ...

  • rate this

    Comment number 178.

    whats the point of this research? They can't create any new whales if the numbers are low! they probably make it worse killing the ones that remain!


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