South Korea announces plans to resume whaling

South Korea has said that they plan on hunting endangered whales that are protected by a global moratorium. Just like Japan, the South Koreans are trying to justify this by claiming that the whaling is done for scientific reasons.

In 1982 the International Whaling Commission (IWC), an international body set up in 1946 with the mission to regulate the whaling industry, adopted a global moratorium on commercial whaling. But due to a loophole in the treaty it is possible for countries such as Japan, and now also South Korea, to engage in so-called “scientific whaling” – and this even though the whale meat will later on be sold in markets for consumption. While Japan hunts hundreds of whales in international waters the South Koreans only plan on hunting mink whales in their own waters.

It was during the annual IWC meeting in Panama that delegates from South Korea announced their whaling plans. "We've submitted a proposal to the IWC's Scientific Committee to resume scientific whaling in our waters and will await the committee's assessment," a Korean official said.

According to Kang Joon-Suk, South Korea’s head envoy at the summit, the mink whale population has recovered since the global moratorium on commercial whaling went into effect in the 1980’s. Whale meat in South Korea, he noted, "dates back to historical times" and the moratorium has been painful for people who have traditionally been hunting whales.

"Legal whaling has been strictly banned and subject to strong punishments, though the 26 years have been painful and frustrating for the people who have been traditionally taking whales for food," he told the conference.

Criticism against South Korea’s whaling plans did not wait.

New Zealand's commissioner, Gerard van Bohemen, called the plans "unnecessary” and “reckless”. Julia Gillard, Australia's Prime Minister, said that she was “disappointed” and that her country remains firmly opposed to whaling:

"I am very disappointed by this announcement by South Korea. We are completely opposed to whaling, there’s no excuse for scientific whaling, and I have instructed our Ambassador in Korea to raise this matter today at the highest levels of the Korean Government. Our Ambassador will speak to counterparts in South Korea at the highest levels of the South Korean Government and indicate Australia’s opposition to this decision”, Gillard said during a press conference.

“The resumption of whaling by Korea after a quarter of a century would be a huge step back for the IWC,” said Wendy Elliott, head of WWF’s delegation to IWC. “Korea already sells meat from whales caught in fishing gear, and we believe this move is a thinly veiled attempt by Korea to conduct commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research, similar to hunts conducted by Japan in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.”

John Frizell from Greenpeace called the South Korean delegates justifications for resuming whaling “complete bogus”:

“Their claim that the minke whale population in the north Pacific has recovered and needs to be hunted is completely bogus. Blaming whales for declining fish populations is like blaming woodpeckers for deforestation. Whales do not cause declines in fishing stocks – overfishing and mismanagement by humans do.

It has been proven time and time again that we don't need to kill whales to study them. Only those interested in commercialising whaling are interested in lethal research, and this proposal by South Korea clearly has the fingerprints of Japan’s dying whaling industries on it.”

It is worth noting that Iceland and Norway are both ignoring the moratorium. Russia and a number of other countries also oppose the moratorium. Denmark, for example, allows the slaughter of hundreds of protected pilot whales every year.


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Simon Leufstedt
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