Credit: © Greenpeace / Jeremy Sutton-Hibbert
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In its opening statement to the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Panama City last week, the Republic of Korea announced they will resume scientific whaling of minke whales.
Korean officials cite that whales disturbing the fishing of their commercial fishers and taking fish from humans as one of the main reasons for resuming this whaling. Minke whales have been scientifically assessed as an endangered species.
“South Korea’s claim that the minke whale population in the north Pacific has recovered and needs to be hunted is completely bogus,” says Greenpeace International whales campaign coordinator, John Frizell. “Blaming whales for declining fish populations is like blaming woodpeckers for deforestration. Whales do not cause declines in fishing stocks – overfishing and mismanagement by humans do.”
South Korea had a large whaling fleet based in Ulsan until the international commercial moratorium was put in place 26 years ago, in 1896. Yet black market whale meat continues to be popular in the country, as shown by 21 out of the 23 cases of illegal whaling reported last year. All Korean cases were for minke whales using harpoons, sending 26 South Korean hunters to jail.
Michael Kennedy, Director of the Humane Society International (HSI) says that “the reasons provided by Korea to the International Whaling Commission are simply convenient excuses to justify the whaling that never properly ceased under the moratorium”.
South Korea is responsible for one-third of the world’s whale ‘inadvertent by-catch’. Most of the whale meat currently sold in the country has been captured legally through a Korean law that allows commercial sale of whale ‘accidentally’ caught in nets. Yet the Korean government insists whaling is banned with harsh punishment.
“Korea’s July 4 announcement that it wanted to whale just like Japan under the scientific exemption, was an affront to the evolving preservationist ethos of the IWC,” said Kitty Block, HSI Vice President and Head of the HSI delegation in Panama City. “Like Japan’s small type coastal whaling proposal, Korea’s declaration of intent to commence scientific whaling can only be seen as part of the ongoing effort by whaling nations to upend the commercial whaling moratorium.”
Mr Kennedy continued, “HSI calls on the Republic of Korean Government to reconsider this plan, and to take up the Australian Government’s offer to provide them with further assistance and guidance on non-lethal research.
Japan, Norway and Iceland are the only other countries that allow whales to be killed for ‘scientific purposes’. Greenpeace's Frizell says “it has been proven time and time again that we don't need to kill whales to study them. Only those interested in commercialising whaling are interested in lethal research, and this proposal by South Korea clearly has the fingerprints of Japan’s dying whaling industries on it”.
Environment groups at the Panama City conference commended the IWC for its progress in addressing the serious health problems posed by eating whale meat and support further protection for the South Atlantic Whale Sanctuary. However, they were scathing of the further indigenous subsistence whaling allowed in Greenland, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, due to controversial support by the US.
“Anti-whaling states cannot allow the IWC to continue a backslide toward becoming a body that legitimises whaling instead of protecting whales. The Korean government must abandon these plans to resume the absurd practice of commercial whaling,” said Frizell.