SEOUL — Environmental activists in South Korea are condemning a government plan to hunt an endangered species of whales for scientific research. Some activists say the plan is a disguise to engage in commercial whaling.
South Korea announced its intentions Wednesday at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission
Joon-Suk Kang, the head of the South Korean delegation, said the program was necessary to answer questions about minke whale stocks that non-lethal research had been unable to solve.
He told delegates the hunt of minke whales would take place near the Korean coast, but did not specify how many animals it plans to catch.
The announcement was immediately condemned by anti-whaling nations, including Australia and New Zealand. Environmentalists also criticized the plan. Han Jung-hee, who heads the Oceans campaign at Green Peace’s Seoul chapter, said the plan is an excuse to engage in commercial whaling.
"Its really regretful to hear that the Korean government is considering conducting scientific whaling," he said. "Scientific whaling is thinly disguised commercial whaling. Japan is the only country at the moment doing scientific whaling and Korea is just trying to follow that."
South Korea is said to have a long history of whaling. Cave paintings found on the south coast depict whale hunts. But hunting and consumption did not really pick up until the late 19th century.
Every year, the South Korean town of Ulsan holds a festival that recreates those whaling expeditions. Visitors there are encouraged to drop by local restaurants that feature whale meat on the menu.
The International Whaling Commission imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling in 1986 out of concern for the survival of the species. Now, some South Korean fishermen say their livelihoods have been hurt by expanding minke whale herds that eat what would have been their catch.
An official from South Korea's Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries, who asked not to be named, says the proposal to conduct scientific research is aimed at resolving that problem.
Limited whaling for scientific research is allowed under the moratorium. So far only Japan has continued the practice under this exception.
Whaling critics have scoffed at Japan's research claims, noting that whale meat from the hundreds of whales harvested in the hunt is sold to the Japanese public.
South Korea is now waiting for the International Whaling Commission to approve their scientific whaling proposal.