South Korea has announced plans to hunt minke whales off its shores under a loophole in whaling rules for research, outraging environmentalists and prompting rebukes from Australia and New Zealand.
Joon-Suk Kang, leader of the South Korean delegation to the International Whaling Commission meeting in Panama, said South Korea has faithfully obeyed the longtime whaling ban and that minke whale populations appear to have rebounded. Fishermen have complained that whales are thinning fish stocks, he said.
Under the plan, whales would be hunted “to analyze and accumulate biological and ecological data on the minke whales migrating off the Korean peninsula,” Kang announced in his opening statement to the commission in Panama City. Doing so would provide better information than the “sighting surveys” South Korea has done so far and also address the complaints of local fishermen, he said.
Environmentalists derided the Korean research plans as a fig leaf for ordinary whaling, an echo of Japanese practices that have long upset activists and even led to violent showdowns at sea as environmental groups try to harass and interrupt the hunts. Japan hunts whales under the aegis of research, but the killed carcasses are ultimately used for human consumption.
“It’s commercial whaling in disguise,” International Fund for Animal Welfare campaigner Matt Collis told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “This is already a depleted stock in real pressure.”
New Zealand officials objected that the plan was unnecessary and inappropriate, saying whale research could be conducted without killing. Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she was “disappointed.”
“There’s no excuse for scientific whaling and I have instructed our ambassador in South Korea to raise this matter today at the highest levels of the Korean government,” Gillard told reporters Thursday.
South Korea has killed whales in the name of science before: The country did research whaling for more than 20 years ago under the same loophole. The World Wildlife Fund says the program yielded no valuable information, citing an International Whaling Commission report prepared at the time.
There is nothing stopping South Korea from moving ahead with its plans, but the Associated Press reported that several officials, speaking anonymously because they weren’t authorized to talk to the media, said the country would give up its whaling plans if the commission rejected them.
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: A minke whale and calf off the coast of Australia last month. Credit: Greg Wood / Agence France-Presse / Getty Images