Whaling loophole needs to be closed

PUBLISHED : Monday, 16 July, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 16 July, 2012, 12:00am


Historical sensitivities still set the bilateral relationship between Japan and Korea apart. Now they see eye-to-eye on an activity that many of their friends find repugnant and inhumane. South Korea has announced that it plans to resume catching and killing whales for 'scientific research', a loophole in the 26-year moratorium on commercial whaling long exploited by Japan and Iceland. Seoul has told the International Whaling Commission that it will resume hunting for minke whales in domestic waters. It said the population of the species had recovered since 1996 and that consumption of whale meat dated back to historical times. Australia's prime minister and New Zealand's foreign minister led a chorus of condemnation.

Seoul has taken advantage of disagreement over the status of the minke whale. The World Wildlife Fund says that it is an endangered species but the International Union for Conservation of Nature says the minke is of least concern. In any case environmentalists dismiss whaling for scientific research as a ruse for commercial whaling, since most of the flesh finds its way to the dinner table. Australia expects a decision next year on a case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague aimed at stopping scientific whaling.

The whaling moratorium is one of the world's great scientific achievements, despite defiance by Japan, Iceland and Norway, which claims an exemption for indigenous cultural practices. Dissenters engineered a relaxation to allow a limited catch two years ago by stacking the IWC with countries that had no direct interest and bribing them with aid. Environmentalists and governments, rightly, continue the battle to have the ban made permanent with no exemptions. It may be an economically insignificant industry that supplements the diet of just one per cent of Japanese, but scientists fear that harvesting of the species at the top of the marine food chain, under conservation rules that are difficult to enforce, is a risk to ecological equilibrium.