"Discussions between government ministries have been concluded in a way that effectively scraps the plan to allow whaling in coastal waters," the senior official, speaking on condition of anonymity, was quoted as saying by Yonhap. "Even if it is for scientific research, we have to take into consideration that this has emerged as a sensitive issue at home and abroad."
Although the South Korean decision hasn't been officially announced, the news was cheered by environmentalists and Australian government officials, who were outraged earlier this month when South Korea said it would use a loophole in global whaling rules to hunt minke whales off its shores.
South Korea had argued at the International Whaling Commission that after the country faithfully obeyed the whaling ban, minke whales had flourished, thinning fish stocks. Hunting the whales would address the complaints of local fishermen and help scientists "analyze and accumulate biological and ecological data," South Korean delegation leader Joon-Suk Kang said at this month's meeting in Panama.
Although hunting whales for research is allowed under global rules, critics argue that the practice is simply a cover for commercial whaling, because the carcasses can be later used for human consumption. Japan has long used the same loophole to continue whaling, to the outrage of environmental groups that say the kills are unnecessary because scientific studies can be done without hunting whales.
There were already hints that South Korea was reconsidering its controversial plan: Last week, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said a South Korean official had assured him at a summit in Cambodia that research whaling would not move forward, drawing applause from Australian officials and activists.
"Clearly the Korean foreign minister saw this as an issue simply not worth the hassle," International Fund for Animal Welfare campaigner Matt Collins wrote Friday after the Australian news broke. "Let us hope that last week’s dipping of the toe in the water isn’t heralding a process whereby Korea continuously floats the idea in the hope that when it actually transpires the world will just accept it."
-- Emily Alpert in Los Angeles
Photo: South Korean animal rights activists hold dolphin- and whale-shaped balloons during a rally in Seoul on Tuesday to oppose the government's recent plan to resume whaling. Credit: Lee Jin-man / Associated Press