GROWING evidence of illegal trade in whale meat underscores the need for increased measures to safeguard the world's largest whale feeding ground in the Antarctic, according to the World Wide Fund (WWF) for Nature. The International Whaling Commission met recently in a special closed-door meeting in the tiny, remote Norfolk Island of Australia to debate a proposal to create a Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary. If adopted later this year, the sanctuary would prohibit commercial whaling all around the Antarctic for five years. ''Despite a global ban on commercial whaling, incidents of smuggling indicate controlling the trade is almost impossible,'' said Cassandra Phillips of WWF. ''If commercial whaling resumed, thousands of whales could be legally hunted in the Antarctic and many more would be threatened by pirate whaling. A Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary is the only hope for the last of the world's great whales.'' A recent report by WWF's wildlife trade monitoring programme, Traffic, found several market stalls with baleen whale meat for sale in Pusan, Korea. This was the same destination of an illegal shipment of 3.5 tonnes of whale meat, labelled as ''shrimps'',confiscated in Norway in October last year. ''The whaling industry has hardly ever been sustainable, and this is especially true of its record in the Southern Ocean,'' said Ms Phillips. Six out of the seven species of great whales that migrate to this area to feed have been reduced to small remnants of their original populations by the whaling industry. The Norfolk Island meeting addressed the legal, geographical, scientific and management reasons for creating the sanctuary. Ms Phillips said that WWF was confident that the sanctuary would complement existing efforts to protect the Southern Ocean, such as the Environmental Protocol to the Antarctic Treaty and Agenda 21, agreed at the UN Conference on Environment and Development.