Scientific Whaling Plans Dumped By South Korea
July 18, 2012

Scientific Whaling Plans Dumped By South Korea

Brett Smith for - Your Universe Online

After experiencing some heavy criticism, the South Korean government is looking to cancel a controversial plan to hunt whales for scientific purposes, according to a new report.

A senior government official who spoke to Yonhap News, South Korea´s largest news agency, on the condition of anonymity said the controversy surrounding the policy was a major factor in the decision, which has yet to be formally announced.

"Discussions between government ministries have been concluded in a way that effectively scraps the plan to allow whaling in coastal waters," the official said. "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."

Earlier this month, the government notified the International Whaling Commission (IWC) that it planned to start catching the animals for scientific purposes, which is the only loophole in the international ban on whaling enacted in 1986. The government added that the hunting ships would only operate in the waters surrounding the Korean Peninsula.

South Korea had also told the IWC that because of the whaling ban; minke whales had flourished and thinned out the commercial fish supply. They posited that hunting the whales would not only tackle the complaints of local fishermen, it would provide scientists with the ability to "analyze and accumulate biological and ecological data," according to South Korean delegation leader Joon-Suk Kang, who spoke at this month's IWC meeting in Panama.

The Southeast Asian country has a history of killing whales in the past by exploiting the same loophole of “scientific research.” For over 20 years, South Korea hunted the sea creatures in the name of science. The World Wildlife Fund noted that the program yielded no valuable research, according to an International Whaling Commission report.

International environmentalist groups and officials derided the Korean research plans as a smokescreen for ordinary whaling, a policy practiced by Japan that has long upset activist groups like Greenpeace who often have violent showdowns with whalers at sea.

It´s commercial whaling in disguise,” International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) campaigner Matt Collis told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “This is already a depleted stock in real pressure.”

Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said she was “disappointed” and her government claimed that research could be done without hunting and killing the animals.

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.

After the international outrage, hints that the South Koreans may be backing down began to slowly trickle out. Last week, Kang said that South Korea may scrap its plans to hunt the whales if experts devise non-lethal means to study the mammals. Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr also chimed in last week saying a South Korean official told him at a summit in Cambodia that research whaling would not move forward.

"Clearly the Korean foreign minister saw this as an issue simply not worth the hassle," Matt Collis 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."