After drawing international criticism in July for announcing that it would be resuming whaling for “scientific research,” the South Korean government has changed its mind. 

Whale processing in Ulsan, South Korea. (Photo: Greenpeace)

Whale processing in Ulsan, South Korea. (Photo: Greenpeace)

At an International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting last July, South Korea argued that whale populations had recovered, that whales were depleting its fish stocks and that it might have to harpoon some of the mammals “for study,” in its own coastal waters. The announcement provoked anger, particularly from Australia and New Zealand, who oppose the Japanese killing hundreds of whales a year in Antarctic waters also under the guise of research.

Non-lethal Study

In an abrupt turn-around last month, Lee Se-oh, a South Korean official in charge of whaling at the Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, said that the government would continue to use only non-lethal means to study whales, such as installing location tracers on them. He said the decision was reached after gaining input from various organizations but wasn’t due to pressure from environmental groups. “We reached a conclusion that there’s no need to do scientific whaling if we can achieve the same results by using non-lethal means,” he said.

The ministry reportedly began to reconsider their previous decision after criticism from anti-whaling nations and an online petition that attracted more than 1,000,000 protest emails in three weeks.

A Ways to Go

South Korea allows whales to be sold for meat if they are accidentally caught in fishing nets, known as “by-catch”. Environmental groups note that fishing fleets in Korea and Japan have a high percentage of the world’s by-catch.

This decision may be little more than a smoke screen on the part of South Korea, but it was announced in quite a public manner so there is hope the moratorium is the real deal.

The IWC’s 1986 ban on commercial whaling allows member countries to hunt whales for scientific research, with the meat then sold on the open market.

Source: Guardian/UK