South Korea shocks with ‘scientific’ whaling plan

South Korea has surprised many by suddenly announcing plans to start a so-called scientific whaling program and the move has been widely condemned by both local an international politicians and environmental groups.
South Korean delegates confirmed the plan to kill whales in coastal waters at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission in Panama this morning.
South Korea said it wanted to start hunting Minke whales under a loophole that allows the killing of whales for scientific research.
It said fishermen had been calling for the whales to be killed because “an increasing number of Minke whales are eating away large amounts of fish stocks which should be consumed by human being.”
At sometimes heated talks, South Korea said it would announce later how many whales it would kill and when, but insisted that it did not need foreign approval.
The Australian Labor government’s Environment Minister Tony Burke is on his way home from the meeting and has not yet commented, but Treasurer Wayne Swan said Australia would oppose the plan.
“This government is absolutely opposed to commercial whaling, and we are absolutely opposed to any arrangement which might seek to disguise commercial whaling as scientific whaling,” he said.
“Now we don’t know enough about the reports that have emerged overnight to say any more than that.
“This matter has arisen overnight and I can’t give you any more of an update as to where it is, but what I can do is outline those two fundamental principles that we operate on.”
The international environment lobby group Greenpeace has branded the plan as “an absolute disgrace”.
Australia’s conservative Liberal-National opposition has called for the Labor government to open urgent talks with South Korea.
In its opening statement to the IWC, South Korea said it would submit its plans to a scientific committee of the global body.
“In order to meet Korean fishermen’s request and make up for the weak point in a non-lethal sighting survey, the Korean government is currently considering conducting whaling for scientific research in accordance with Article VIII of the Convention,” the statement reads.
It said the plan would be presented in full to the next meeting of the scientific committee.
In a warning to critics of whaling, the South Korean delegation said: “It is essential that member governments mutually recognise the importance of cultural diversity and heritage of other countries.”
“Any differences should be resolved through dialogue and cooperation based on mutual understanding,” the statement said.
The move would echo the Japanese whaling program, which is also conducted under the auspices of scientific research.
Britain’s BBC News quoted New Zealand’s delegation head as saying that the plan “bordered on the reckless”.
South Korea said it had data that “the Minke whale population in the north Pacific has recovered considerably to the level maintained before the Moratorium.”
“As a result, fishermen in this area are consistently calling for limited whaling,” it said.
“This is because they are experiencing disturbances in their fishing activities due to frequent occurrences of cetaceans in their fishing grounds and an increasing number of Minke whales are eating away large amount of fish stocks which should be consumed by human being.”
The statement said South Korea whalers caught about 1000 whales each year before an IWC moratorium on commercial whaling came into effect.
“The long coastal whaling tradition for livelihood and nutritional purposes was suspended in 1986 in compliance with the IWC decision,” the statement said.
“At the time, the Korean government had to enforce the whalers to scrap all the whaling vessels completely, promising that they would be able to resume whaling upon the recovery of the resources.
“With this, the Ulsan community has long been waiting for the IWC to lift the ban for more than a quarter of a century.”
Speaking to ABC News this morning, opposition environment spokesman Greg Hunt said the South Korean move came as a “complete surprise and a deep disappointment.”
“The world is moving away from whaling, this is a practice of the past,” he said.
“We would roundly reject this and I think this is an area where there could be very strong bipartisan support in Australia to oppose the push for a renewal of whaling by South Korea.
“I think that we can work together to work with the South Koreans to try to discourage them from recommencing a practice that I think frankly is from the past.
“I would hope that the Australian government is talking with the South Koreans today.
“There should be no delay, there should be no half messages, what we need is complete clarity that this is an unacceptable practice and it’s a negative step.”
The Australian Greens Party urged the federal government to make “urgent representations” to South Korea.
International Fund for Animal Welfare spokesman Matt Collis told ABC News that the Korean move was “commercial whaling in disguise”.
“It’s disappointing to see South Korea take this step,” he said.
“The Minke whales South Korea will target are likely to be the same ones Japan is targeting in the north Pacific.
“To have more whaling on that same stock of whales will be a real problem.
“What we’d rather see is South Korea promoting the real sustainable use of whales, which is whale watching. It’s a far more profitable industry. It’s good for the whales and good for local livelihoods and coastal communities.”
He said the argument that whales are responsible for declines in fish stocks was spurious.
“By and large it’s modern commercial fishing that’s the problem,” he said.
“Indeed, in South Korea, they have a large problem with by-catch of Minke whales in fishing nets off the coast of Korea, where they’re proposing to go whaling.”
Some Minke Whale facts
  • Minke whales are one of the smallest species of baleen whales, growing to nearly nine metres long and a weight of about 10 tonnes.
  • Minkes are the most abundant baleen whale species and are found in all the world’s oceans.
  • There are an estimated 800,000 worldwide.
  • The common Minke and the Antarctic Minke are distinguished by size and colour pattern differences.
  • There is also a dwarf Minke species.
  • Minkes feed primarily on krill and small fish and can gather in pods of hundreds of whales.
  • Pacific minkes reproduce year-round.
  • Japan has a International Whaling Committee permit to kill about 850 Antarctic Minkes for “scientific research”.
  • According to the Australian government, their conservation status is listed as of “least concern”.

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WildLife Rules!: South Korea shocks with ‘scientific’ whaling plan
South Korea shocks with ‘scientific’ whaling plan
WildLife Rules!
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