Saving whales in Korea

Feature story - 18 March, 2005
Our flagship Rainbow Warrior has just arrived in Incheon Harbour for the start of a month-long tour to protect whales in Korea. We've joined forces with Korea's largest environmental group, Korean Federation for the Environment Movement (KFEM) to highlight the urgent need to protect our whales and the oceans that they inhabit.

Greenpeace and Korean environmental group KFEM have joined forces to save whales in Korea.

KFEM has recently launched its own domestic campaign to oppose allforms of whaling, and its 52 local offices are busy working to raiseawareness on the issues that surround the plight of whales and otherocean life.

Together, we aim to jointly inform the Korean public and governmentthat whales in Korean waters are some of the most threatened in theworld and, like all whales, are in need of urgent protection.

TheRainbow Warrior was greeted by an incredible spectacle: a percussionband, a Buddhist monk, Korean Environment Minister Mr Kwak Kyeoul Ho,Korean women in traditional dress who danced a welcome and children whopresented the crew with "I love whales" t-shirts.

While Korea has no official whaling programme, if a whale or dolphinis found dead in a fishing net, it can be sold on the open market forhuge prices - in 2004 the average price paid for a mature minke whalewas US$100 000. It is perhaps no coincidence therefore, that Korea hassome of the highest cetacean bycatch incidents in the world, secondonly to Japan.

Twomarine biologists aboard the Rainbow Warrior will conduct a whalesurvey from Incheon to the southern island of Cheju, to document thedecline in whale populations and sound a warning bell against a returnto commercial whaling.

Also aboard will be Greenpeace cyberactivist Yewon Kim, a member ofour online community who has volunteered to keep a weblog aboard theship to relate her experience in Korean.

It is not commonly known in Korea that whales are under threat orthat they are anything other than 'big fish.' It is vital that we raiseawareness before this year's International Whaling Commission meeting,scheduled to take place in Ulsan, an old whaling port in the southeast.The meeting is already being widely publicized in Korea with billboardadvertisements across Seoul.

TheInternational Whaling Commission voted in 1985 to place a moratorium oncommercial whaling. That moratorium has been under concerted attack byJapan and other whaling nations for several years now. Votes for andagainst the moratorium are neck and neck. If Korea sides with thewhaling lobby this year, as it has done in the past, it could mean theresumption of whaling worldwide. We are calling for the Koreangovernment to 'vote for whales, not whaling' at the IWC in June, and bydoing so, send out a clear message to the world that they are seriousabout the protecting the whales and the health of the oceans that theyinhabit.

Korean waters were traditionally home to dolphins, finlessporpoises, humpback whales, orcas, minkes and the Western Pacific or'Korean' Gray whales - the most endangered whale species in the world,whose population numbers only 100 of which only 25 are reproductivefemales.

Thereare also many in Korea, especially in the southeast, who would like tosee a return to whaling, and with a whale processing infrastructure andappetite for whalemeat already in place, the Korean government couldconceivably announce a plan to take up 'scientific' whaling.

Under a loophole in International Whaling Commission rules, thekilling of whales for research purposes is allowed, and Japan, Norway,and Iceland currently use 'scientific' whaling programmes to producewhalemeat in commercial quantities.

Over the next few weeks, we'll be providing more information andaction opportunities by which you can help ensure Korea doesn't returnto whaling. Our campaigners, crew, marine biologists, and cyberactivistYewon Kim will be keeping a weblog of their experiences.

Take action

Yewon Kim ended up on a Greenpeace shipbecause she signed up as a Greenpeace Cyberactivist. If you'd like tobe a part of Greenpeace's online community, register here.It's free! You'll get a a monthly e-zine chock full of things to do tohelp our planet, plus a free homepage. You'll also be able to exchangeviews with other members at our cybercentre's online message board. Inthe past, cyberactivists have travelled to the Amazon, China, andIceland to help us with our campaign work. You may be next. Register today.