Critics Stick a Harpoon in South Korea’s Whale Hunt Plan

An announcement to hunt whales for science draws outrage from state leaders and environmentalists.
South Korea wants to hunt minke whales for "science." Critics say it's an excuse to sell whale meat. (Photo: Stringer/Reuters)
Jul 6, 2012· 1 MIN READ
The director of the Public Trust Project, Alison Fairbrother has written for Grist and Politics Daily, among others.

At the International Whaling Commission (IWC) talks in Panama this week, South Korean officials introduced a plan that would allow an undisclosed number of minke whales to be killed “for proper assessment of whale stocks.”

Sound suspicious?

Anti-whaling advocates and environmentalists say this is a thinly disguised attempt to increase access to whale meat and remove competition for coveted fish populations.

Commercial whaling was outlawed internationally in 1986, but Japan, Norway, and Iceland have continued to hunt whales under various regulatory exceptions. South Korea aims to be fourth on the list.

Citing the historic and culturally significant consumption of whale meat in the city of Ulsan, Dr. Joon-Suk Kang, head of the South Korean delegation, argued that fishermen in the city deserve “limited whaling.” The “minke whale population in the north Pacific has recovered considerably to the level maintained before the moratorium,” he said in an address to the IWC.

Prior to the 1986 moratorium, Ulsan fishermen captured 600 minke whales each year, according to Reuters, putting a dent in the minke whale stocks off the Korean coast.

The BBC reports that one stock of minke whales, known as the J-stock, remains severely depleted.

Australia and New Zealand have long opposed “scientific whaling” by the Japanese in the Antarctic and North Pacific, which allows the sale of whale meat after the animals are recovered for research purposes. Australia has even filed suit against Japan in the International Court of Justice over its whaling practices. The case will likely be heard later this year.

On Wednesday, Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard condemned Korea’s decision to follow in Japan’s footsteps, telling reporters, “There’s no excuse for scientific whaling.”

The U.S. delegation followed suit, tweeting: US #IWC2012 believes lethal scientific whaling is unnecessary in modern #whale cons and mangt. Opposed to S Korea’s whaling proposal.

The World Wildlife Fund pointed out that Korea conducted a scientific hunt of minke whales in 1986, capturing 69 in total.

“Not only was no new information of significant scientific value obtained, the IWC Scientific Committee found that ‘the take of 69 minke whales may have caused further reduction of this depleted stock, or at best inhibited its recovery,’ ” WWF wrote.

South Korea has officially petitioned the IWC Scientific Committee for a response, which may take a while. But the nation doesn’t have to wait—the IWC was created as a voluntary agreement between member states. Korea’s scientific whaling could begin at any moment. It looks to all involved like a setback for conservation.

If you are against whale hunting, spread the word about South Korea’s plan by sharing this article with your friends.