South Korea said Wednesday that it planned to start whaling through a loophole that allows the killing of whales for scientific research, following the lead of Japan's controversial expeditions, AFP reports.
At talks of the International Whaling Commission in Panama, South Korean delegates said they would submit future whaling plans to a scientific committee of the global body and were not looking for approval by other nations.
The announcement immediately triggered criticism by Australia, New Zealand and other anti-whaling nations that have long been infuriated by Japan's whaling expeditions in Antarctic waters.
South Korean delegate Park Jeong-Seok said that his country would submit its plans "in the spirit of trust, good faith and transparency" but stressed: "We are under no obligation to inform you in advance."
"As a responsible member of the commission, we do not accept any such categorical, absolute proposition that whales should not be killed or caught," he said.
"This is not a forum for moral debate, this is a forum for legal debate," Park said of the Western criticism. "Such kind of moral preaching is not relevant or appropriate in this forum."
Kang Joon-Suk, the head South Korean commissioner, did not provide numbers, areas or a timeline for scientific whaling. But other delegates said they expected South Korea would target minke whales in the Sea of Japan, which Koreans call the East Sea.
The International Whaling Commission has imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling since 1986 amid fears for the survival of the ocean giants.
Japan has carried out whaling through a loophole in the Commission's rules that allow nations to conduct lethal research on whales, with the meat then going to consumption.
Norway and Iceland are the only nations that defy the moratorium entirely. Iceland also used to describe its whaling as scientific but shifted its position in 2006 and said it was commercial in nature.
South Korea carried out scientific whaling for one season after the 1986 moratorium went into effect. But whale meat remains popular in the coastal town of Ulsan, which serves remains of whales "accidentally" caught in nets.
The International Whaling Commission allows the processing of whales that are killed by accident, but activists have long charged that South Korea was turning a blind eye or even deliberately killing whales through nets.