Victory for whales, but danger still lurks

Feature story - June 22, 2005
ULSAN, Korea, Republic of — Despite underhand tactics, the Japanese government has failed once more in its attempt to pave the way towards commercial whaling. This is fantastic news for whales ... but the battle is not over. Several minke whales have been "accidentally" caught in Korea over the last few days, and we have secured shocking hidden camera footage of how easy it is to buy a harpoon for illegal whaling.

A ceremony at the Ulsan Whale Festival, in Ulsan, South Korea, during the IWC meeting.

Today at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Ulsan, South Korea, anti-whaling nations won a historic victory. The commission firmly rejecting a Japanese government proposal which would have paved the way towards a lifting of the ban on commercial whaling. It was voted down 29 votes to 23.

Interestingly, Korea, which traditionally has voted with the pro-whaling bloc, abstained from the vote.  Our activists here at the Whale Embassy in Ulsan, South Korea were delighted at this news. Through pressure here on the ground and pressure from cyberactivists around the world,  we have made real headway in convincing the Korean government not to risk their international reputation by becoming a supporter of commercial whaling. It is a big step forward for Korea.

However, coinciding with the IWC has been Ulsan's "Whale Festival" - which celebrates Ulsan's history of whaling.  It is legal to eat whale meat in Korea if the whale was caught and killed accidentally while fishing - known as "bycatch".  But by some "amazing coincidence"  several minke whales have been "accidentally" caught just in time for the Festival. One juvenile minke whale, caught just two days ago, was sold for about USD$31,000.

Further evidence that some accidents aren't accidental came when we obtained footage of how easy it is to buy a whaling harpoon  in South Korea.  The footage was filmed via a hidden camera in an ordinary fishing tackle store.  The following dialogue occurs on camera:

Shopkeeper: Whales sell for a lot of money.

Customer: I heard there are a lot of harpoon guns on sale at the moment…

Shopkeeper: Dolphins used to sell for around 300 000 won (approximately USD$300), nowadays they can fetch up to (USD$600) 600 000 to 700 000 won (USD $700).

Customer: Yesterday I tried to find one, but I had no luck, there weren't any around. The captain asked me to find one.

The customer goes on to buy a whale harpoon that can hold a whale of up to one ton.  We have also obtained the whaling harpoon itself as proof that this activity is still happening in Korea.

This is just one example of why, despite today's great victory at the IWC, there are still threats to whales and dolphins.  There are loopholes that allow "Scientific whaling" and the underground trade in "bycatch", which according to Royal Society research,  threatens to drive the Korean population of minke whales to extinction even if commercial whaling is not resumed.  

Of course there are also several more days where whales issues will be hotly debated at the IWC including a proposal by the Japanese government to abolish the Southern Whale Sanctuary.

For now though, we have succeeded in keeping the IWC moratorium on whaling firmly in place, convinced Korea not to build a whale meat factory, taken 51,000 people to a Virtual March at the IWC, and continued to pressure Iceland through the Iceland pledge. To be a part of our ongoing efforts, sign up now to be a Greenpeace cyberactivist.  The whales are counting on your continued vigilance.

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