South Korea reveals plan to hunt endangered whales

[news_posted_on] 05 July 2012  | 
South Korea today (Wednesday Panama time) announced plans to kill endangered whales under a loophole in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) treaty that allows for so-called “scientific whaling”. 

The proposal was met with fierce opposition from numerous IWC member governments that called the hunt unnecessary given the availability of modern non-lethal research techniques.

Many governments countered South Korea’s claims that lethal whaling is needed to determine how to manage stocks. Australia went so far as to invite Korean scientists for a visit to discuss how non-lethal techniques can help fill data gaps.

“The resumption of whaling by Korea after a quarter of a century would be a huge step back for the IWC,” said Wendy Elliott, head of WWF’s delegation to IWC. “Korea already sells meat from whales caught in fishing gear, and we believe this move is a thinly veiled attempt by Korea to conduct commercial whaling under the guise of scientific research, similar to hunts conducted by Japan in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary.”

The minke whales that would be taken in South Korea’s proposed hunt are considered endangered by the IWC Scientific Committee.

In its opening statement to the annual meeting of the commission, South Korea said its fishermen are pressuring the government to allow whaling. “[T]hey 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,” the statement says.

The argument that increasing whale populations are behind declining fish stocks lacks any scientific foundation. Overfishing, not whales, is responsible for the degraded state of many of the world’s fish stocks.

South Korea conducted a similar scientific hunt of minke whales in 1986, which was found by the IWC to yield no relevant scientific data. Not only was no new information of significant scientific value obtained, the IWC Scientific Committee found that “the take of 69 minke whales may have caused further reduction of this depleted stock, or at best inhibited its recovery,” according to its report.

“This type of senseless proposal derails the important work of the IWC on conservation issues of critical importance to whales, dolphins and porpoises,” Elliott said. “Conservation of threatened whale species is something all countries should be able to agree on.”

Editor’s note:
Currently the IWC maintains a moratorium that prohibits all commercial whaling. However three countries have continued to conduct commercial whaling – Norway and Iceland do so as they have an objection/reservation to the moratorium. Japan does not, but continues to whale using a loophole in the ICRW that allows the killing of whales for “scientific research”. All of this whaling occurs outside the control of the IWC, with governments unilaterally setting their own quotas, and determining their own management controls. Japan is the only country to whale on the high seas, including in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary. Iceland’s fin whale hunt is particularly problematic, with quotas set way in excess of sustainable limits calculated by the IWC Scientific Committee.

Media inquiries can be directed to:
Alona Rivord,, +41 79 959 1963

WWF-Australia media contact:
Daniel Rockett, Senior Media Officer,, 0432 206 592

Photos are available here:

Dwarf minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata.  Great Barrier Reef & Coral Sea, Australia.
Dwarf minke whale, Balaenoptera acutorostrata. Great Barrier Reef & Coral Sea, Australia.
© Jürgen Freund / WWF-Canon Enlarge


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