Whales

It’s been a turbulent five months for the future of whales in South Korea after the Seoul government made a shock statement in July at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Panama, announcing that it was planning a ‘scientific’ whaling programme.

There was an uproar – ‘scientific’ whaling is just an excuse to kill whales for meat. Two weeks later, the day before my wedding, I was still doing media interviews about the plan and one of the guests brought a picket sign reading ‘No Whaling!’ to my wedding.

In September, the Greenpeace ship Esperanza went out to the East Sea with scientists from Australia and the US on board to demonstrate the non-lethal methods the world uses to study whales.

Meanwhile, the South Korean government was quietly pressing ahead and holding consultations with different stakeholder groups.

A day after those consultations, which involved environmentalists in the morning and whale meat sellers in the afternoon, we launched a cyber action calling on the prime minister to abandon the scientific hunt before it begins.

In less than a week’s time, more than 50,000 people from around the world joined our cyber action, along with various South Korean groups. After three weeks, roughly 105,000 people from 124 countries had sent an email to the South Korean Prime Minister, Kim Hwang-sik. 

I had the pleasure of visiting the prime minister’s office on November 28 to remind him of the strong opinions from around the world.

Two days later I was told that the scientific whale hunt had been cancelled. There was no official confirmation, however, and the deadline for South Korea to submit its proposal was December 3. All I could do was wait.

But just a few days ago, it was finally confirmed – South Korea had not handed in any application with the IWC for ‘scientific’ whaling.

And as I digested this news, I imagined that somewhere, out in the cold waters of the East Sea, minke whales were celebrating.

Jeonghee Han is an oceans campaigner in Greenpeace East Asia’s Seoul office.