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July 4, 2012

Day Three at IWC 64

Korea joins Japan in embrace of lethal scientific whaling

Humane Society International

  • Korea's rationale to resume the hunt of minke whales is questionable at best. istock/Erlend Kvalsvik

by Bernie Unti

Korea riled up Day Three at IWC 64 big-time, declaring its intention to commence lethal scientific whaling to accommodate fishermen in and near the southeastern industrial city of Ulsan, site of IWC 57 in 2005. Korea’s proposal, foretold in its opening statement, ran smack into science itself, meeting quick condemnation by whale-friendly nations that cast it as a means of opening the door to commercial whaling, while citing the quality of non-lethal research being carried out by many nations worldwide.

Korea announced its plans just after Japan had introduced its perennial request for small-scale coastal whaling, itself a provocation to supporters of the global whaling moratorium.

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The Korean gambit had the interesting effect of putting Japan on the defensive concerning its own special permit scientific whaling under Article VIII of the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling. Japan, having requested that a vote on the small scale coastal whaling proposal be held over for another day, now became embroiled in a spirited debate over the value of killing whales to study them.

Korea’s “informal” whaling programs

Korea grounded its decision to conduct lethal whaling for scientific research in the claim that it would help to differentiate between J-stock minke whales and other minke whale populations migrating off the Korean peninsula.

Japan has carried out whaling under Article VIII for many years, killing just under 9,000 whales by this channel in the 21st century thus far.

Korea was actually the first nation to whale under Article VIII’s scientific exemption, doing so for just one season following the implementation of the global commercial moratorium in 1986. 

While Korea’s opening statement cited its many years of restraint and deference to the moratorium, there were 21 scofflaw killings of whales by Korean fishermen in 2011.

Moreover, Korean fishermen have “whaled" under an “inadvertent bycatch” rule for many years.  Korea reported a catch of 458 during the five years encompassing 1999-2003, but genetic testing of whale meat in Korean markets suggests that as many as 827 individual animals were taken through this loophole.

A Korean concern built a processing plant in 2005 to process whale meat and blubber.

Small-scale coastal is still commercial

In the day’s other threat to the commercial whaling moratorium, Japan introduced its small coastal whaling proposal, as it has done on numerous occasions since the 1980s. Australia’s Donna Petrachenko delivered a succinct rejection, underscoring that for many nations the Japanese proposal was plainly a request for an exemption to the moratorium on commercial whaling. Stating her desire to be “exceedingly clear,” Petrachenko said, "This is commercial whaling, clear and simple."

The U.S. was one of many nations to associate itself with Australia’s remarks. Japan decided to have the proposal held over, setting the stage for Korea’s move.

It was perhaps not coincidental that Korea described its proposed program as one of “coastal whaling,” while Japan stood out as one of the strongest defenders of the Korean proposal.

Korea said that it would discuss its proposal with scientific experts before proceeding. But it is not obligated to do so by the terms of Article VIII. Help HSI continue to fight for whales: Donate and take action today.

Bernard Unti, Ph.D, is senior policy advisor and special assistant to the CEO/president of The Humane Society of the United States, and a Humane Society International delegate to the IWC.

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