Last summer Korea shocked the international community by announcing it would start ‘scientific’ whaling. Surprised by the controversy, our government took a step back and told the media that they will consult with the various stakeholders such as fishing community, NGOs, and the concerned governments and make a decision whether to submit the scientific whaling proposal. The South Korean government also made it clear that if there are other means to achieve our research goals without killing whales, we could consider not going for scientific whaling.
So four months later, on a cold November day, I found myself walking into the government complex in Gwacheon, a short subway ride from Seoul, to join other Korean environmental groups at the consultation. There were lots of government departments - Fisheries, Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry of Environment, Ministry of Land, Transport and Maritime Affairs, Ministry of Government Legislation – but the key one was the Cetacean Research Institute, a body modeled on Japan’s Institute for Cetacean Research which seeks to bring commercial whaling here to South Korea.
In Korea hundreds of minke whales are killed every year and their meat is traded along the east coast, especially around Ulsan where the CRI has its headquarters at a former whaling harbour. Whale counts are incomplete but what information there is suggest that the minke whales, which are classified as protected, are declining 5 to 7 percent each year.
I explained how scientists all over the world study whales without killing them and gave details on various whales research programs. The man from the CRI didn’t answer my repeated question on why they would want to kill a protected species. He said they already did lots of non-lethal research but that the best way to see what whales have been eating is to cut them open.
Clearly Korea has not given up on ‘scientific’ whaling, otherwise I would not have had to go to this meeting. But there is still some hope. The CRI man said that they will assess which is better, lethal or non-lethal research, bearing in mind other issues. “Other issues” means political pressure.
The Fisheries Ministry’s representative at the meeting summed it up well: “We might go scientific whaling and we might not. We are listening to you before making any decision.”
The government will make its decision on Dec 3, less than a month from now. I believe they really care about international opinion. Please let them know that the world stands opposed to a resumption of commercial whaling by sending the Korean government a message here.
Jeonghee Han is an oceans campaigner based in Greenpeace East Asia’s Seoul office.