South Korea has announced plans to kill endangered whales. They plan to take advantage of a loophole in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) treaty that allows for so-called “scientific whaling”. Their proposal, which was announced at the IWC meeting in Panama this July, met fierce opposition from many IWC member governments meeting this week in Panama, who agree with us that this killing is unnecessary, especially given the availability of modern non-lethal research techniques.
“The resumption of whaling by South Korea after a quarter of a century would be a huge step back for the IWC,” says our own whale specialist Heather Sohl. “South Korea already sells meat from whales caught in fishing gear, and we believe this move is a thinly veiled attempt to conduct commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research - similar to hunts conducted by Japan in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.”
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The minke whales that would be taken in South Korea’s proposed hunt are considered endangered by the IWC Scientific Committee.
Korea plans to submit its whaling proposal to the IWC Scientific Committee on 3 December. Once this proposal hs been made, the IWC is only able to review the details and make recommendations to strengthen the proposal. It is not in a position to prohibit Korea from 'scientific' whaling altogether. So WWF and other whale conservation organisations are seeking to change South Korea's decision now.
The IWC maintains a moratorium that prohibits all commercial whaling. But three countries still conduct commercial whaling - Norway and Iceland do so because they object to the moratorium, while Japan uses the scientific loophole.
In its opening statement to the July IWC meeting, South Korea said its fishermen are pressuring the government to allow whaling. “[T]hey are experiencing disturbances in their fishing activities due to frequent occurrences of cetaceans in their fishing grounds and an increasing number of minke whales are eating away large amount of fish stocks,” the statement says.
The argument that increasing whale populations are behind declining fish stocks lacks any scientific foundation. It's overfishing, not whales, that's responsible for the degraded state of many of the world’s fish stocks.
South Korea conducted a similar scientific hunt of minke whales in 1986, which was found by the IWC Scientific Committee to yield no new information of significant scientific value. Not only that, but “the take of 69 minke whales may have caused further reduction of this depleted stock, or at best inhibited its recovery,” according to its report.
This type of senseless proposal derails the important work of the IWC on conservation issues of critical importance to whales, dolphins and porpoises. We believe conservation of threatened whale species is something all countries should be able to agree on.