South Korea Announces Intent to Begin Whaling in the Name of Scientific Research
“A ‘loophole’ in a global moratorium” was how Radio Netherlands Worldwide described the license South Korea is taking advantage of to hunt whales despite conservation concerns.
The statement made by Dr. Joon-Suk Kang, head of the Korean delegation in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Panama, raised criticism and disapproval. Dr. Kang began with a ‘reminder’ that the republicof Koreahad an active whaling history dating back to prehistoric times. He stated that the long coastal whaling traditions were suspended in 1986 to comply with the IWC decision and that whalers had been waiting for the IWC ban to be lifted for more than 25 years, citing the community of Ulsan as an example. Incidentally, Ulsan is also an area where minke whale meat is easily bought in restaurants as well as markets. The whale meat is officially reported as accidental catch, but local environment groups say minke whales are deliberately caught.
In his opening statement Dr. Kang reports that fishermen in the area are pushing for limited whale hunting because the minke whale population in the north Pacific has recovered and is now eating large numbers of fish, which should instead be eaten by humans.
Dr. Kang also added that the Korean government has conducted non-lethal sighting survey of whale populations since 2001, and that the survey method is inadequate in assessing resources and identifying different whale stocks and feeding habits. In consequence the Korean government is at present considering initiating whaling for scientific research.
The announcement was criticized and condemned by many delegations at the IWC meeting. Gerard van Bohemen, head of the New Zealand delegation, called the move “unnecessary” and “reckless,” referring to whaling of the critically depleted J-stock that are found in the region along with other groups of minke whales. Murray McCully, the Foreign Minister of New Zealand, declared the South Korean plan as a serious setback to whale conservation work. Furthermore, he stated that whaling under the label of “scientific” programme does not fool anyone.
“The portrayal of this initiative as a ‘scientific’ programme will have no more credibility than the so-called scientific programme conducted by Japan, which has long been recognised as commercial whaling in drag. In this day and age there is simply no need to kill whales in order to conduct effective research.”
Park Jeong-Seok, a delegate of South Korea in the meeting, said that Seoul does not have any obligation to inform others about its whaling activities but was doing so for good faith and transparency. Park also added that the forum was a legal debate and was not in any way a moral debate, condemning the “moral preaching” as it does not stand relevant to the forum. He also declared that as a responsible member of the Commission they are not accepting the categorical and absolute proposition of not killing whales.
Conservation groups as well as anti-whaling governments point out that “scientific whaling” is designed for taking of only a small number of whales, and not hundreds every year to provide meat supply. Monaco’s IWC Commissioner, Frederic Briand, said that “Scientific whaling is an obsolete and sad consequence of a document drafted 60 years ago…There’s no reason to do it, given the enormous body of scientific literature obtained via non-lethal means.”
When loopholes are used to undermine long-standing global agreements and decades of conservation work, it is a sad consequence indeed – both for people groups and the environment.
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