Encouraging Korea to chart a course towards whale conservation

Co-workers at the International Fund for Animal Welfare do a double-take when my friend and colleague Christine Jones calls me “Cuz.”  Christine is Korean-American. 

Her mom, born Kim Soon Ja, emigrated from South Korea to the United States a generation ago. She and Christine’s dad now live in Baltimore and whenever Christine visits, she brings back incredible Korean rice and kimchee. 

When she discovered my appetite for Korean food some years ago, Christine joked that we must be cousins, and the label stuck.

Unlike Japan, Iceland and Norway, the last three countries still killing whales for commercial purposes in the 21st century, the Government of Republic of Korea has largely respected the worldwide ban on whaling since it was imposed in 1986.   

IFAW has worked closely with Korean groups and leading scientific experts over the years to strengthen Korea’s conservation line.   There is a big problem in Korean waters; endangered minke whales – so-called “J” stock minkes – that swim in the Sea of Japan, are regularly entangled in Korean fishing gear.   

These “by-caught” whales can be legally sold.  Market surveys initiated by IFAW more than a decade ago demonstrated the numbers of minke whales entering the Korean market were roughly double reported figures, prompting some to suggest Korea was actually conducting “net-whaling.” 

In the face of such concerns, Korean authorities have recently been successful in detecting and prosecuting illegal catches and reporting infractions to the International Whaling Commission (IWC). Yet the Fisheries Agency in Korea has persistently expressed an interest in returning to commercial whaling.

At this year’s IWC meeting held in Panama in July, bureaucrats from that agency stunned international delegates on the floor by announcing their intention to join Japan in killing whales under the guise of scientific research – exploiting a loophole in the Whaling Convention.

New Zealand and Australia were the first to raise objections at the highest level with statements from Prime Ministers John Key and Julia Gillard in the days following the announcement. 

Representatives of many other governments including the U.S., the E.U. and Latin American governments also weighed in.  In addition to immediate protests by concerned Korean NGOs, conservation and animal welfare groups worldwide including IFAW have also raised strong objections. 

Subsequent media reports implied a shift in approach, quoting 11 July 2012 statement by Korean Fisheries Minister Kang Joon-Suk, “we may not conduct whaling for scientific research if there is another way to achieve the goal”. 

In addition, Australia’s Foreign Minister Hon. Bob Carr, reported that Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan had indicated at the East Asia Summit that plans for scientific whaling would not proceed.

However, the office of the Korean President then issued a statement following a meeting of ministers that leaves the door open, “even if the Korean Government decides to submit a proposal on scientific research whaling, its decision to conduct scientific research whaling in accordance with international regulations and procedures will be fully committed to the recommendations of the IWC Scientific Committee”.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), which is the world’s largest global conservation network, consisting of 962 national and international NGOs and 91 state members has urged Korea to re-consider its plan and instead continue to support non-lethal research in Korean waters.

IUCN is holding the World Conservation Congress this week in Jeju, Korea.  It would be a sad irony if, as it hosts one of the world’s most important conservation summits, the Government of Korea is quietly sharpening plans to harpoon endangered whales in the name of science.   

The last thing the world’s whales need is for Korea to join Japan in promoting the sham and shame of scientific whaling

In coming weeks, IFAW will be asking governments, political leaders, institutions and concerned individuals like you to join the effort to encourage the Korean Government to resist pressure from the Government of Japan and its own Fisheries bureaucrats. 

We are asking Korea to confirm it will not be submitting a scientific whaling proposal. 

Together, we can help our Korean cousins keep charting a course for whale conservation.


Post a comment


Brian Sharp, Emergency Relief Officer, Stranding Coordinator
Manager, Marine Mammal Rescue and Research
Dr. Maria (Masha) N. Vorontsova, Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Regional Director, Russia & CIS
Matt Collis, Director, International Policy
Director, International Policy
Patrick Ramage, Program Director, Whales
Program Director, Marine Conservation