From: Andy Soos ENN
Published July 5, 2012 01:20 PM

The New Whaling

Whaling is the hunting of whales mainly for meat and oil. Its earliest forms date to at least 3000 BC. So it has long been a successful economic activity but not too good for the whales whose population tends to be endangered. The Republic of Korea has announced plans to kill endangered whales under a loophole in the International Whaling Commission (IWC) treaty that allows for so-called scientific whaling (A sort of lethal way to determine how best to preserve the remaining whale stock). The Korean 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.

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As technology increased and demand for the resources remained, catches far exceeded the sustainable limit for whale stocks. In the late 1930s more than 50,000 whales were killed annually and by the middle of the century whale stocks were not being replenished. In 1986 the International Whaling Commission (IWC) banned commercial whaling so that stocks might recover.

While the moratorium has been successful in averting the extinction of whale species due to overhunting, contemporary whaling is subject to intense debate. Pro-whaling countries, notably Japan, wish to lift the ban on stocks that they claim have recovered sufficiently to sustain limited hunting. Anti-whaling countries and environmental groups say whale species remain vulnerable and that whaling is immoral, unsustainable, and should remain banned permanently.

Many governments countered 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."

In its opening statement to the annual meeting of the commission, 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 is debatable.  Over fishing is more likely responsible for the degraded state of many of the world’s fish stocks.

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.

South Korea's envoy to the summit, Kang Joon-Suk, said that consumption of whale meat "dates back to historical times"and that there had been an increase in the minke whale population since the ban took place in 1986. "Legal whaling has been strictly banned and subject to strong punishments, though the 26 years have been painful and frustrating for the people who have been traditionally taking whales for food."  He said that South Korea would only undertake whaling in its own waters. 

For further information see WWF.

Whale image via Wikipedia.

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