Commercial whaling has been banned globally since 1986, but in Monterey Bay where whale watching and marine biology research are very popular, there are lots of concerns that South Korea may be opening a door that could lead to a collapse on the global ban.
The blue and humpback whales in Monterey Bay are a major attraction. Two operators take out hundreds of people to see them daily and on a good day, they might see a minke whale like the one photographed off Pacific Grove Thursday morning by Monterey Bay Whale Watch. The minke whale is the one South Korea wants to start hunting for research purposes.
Naturalists who educate whale watchers at sea told ABC7 News they are skeptical of South Korea's intentions. "I don't believe in scientific research for whaling. Most people don't at all. It's just a disguise for really, commercial whaling," says whale naturalist Nancy Black. One big concern is that South Korea's action will weaken efforts to enforce a ban on commercial whaling on global basis, overseen by the international whaling commission. "They try to get all the nations together, but it's a struggle. They've been struggling to keep this ban in effect and they may get overwhelmed by countries that say we're just going to defy you like Norway and Iceland," Black continued.
South Korea says it's only interested in finding out how its fish supply is being impacted by whale feeding patterns. However, environmental groups warn that the whale meat shows up in restaurants and even in school lunches. "If it's like the other countries that have been whaling, it's probably going to end up in the food supply," naturalist Ron Leinweber says. "They try to keep a close eye on that by monitoring the fish markets, but it's really hard to keep an eye on all of them."
Environmental groups say they may have to mount pressure on South Korea. In the past, the "Sea Shepherd" has taken on Japanese whaling boats resulting in dramatic confrontations at sea. There is already talk of staging a boycott of South Korean imports to reverse the whaling decision. Others, including one Florida tourist don't believe action should be taken. "I just think they overdo it sometimes, a little bit. Sometimes government gets involved in too much," Keith Ring told ABC7 News.
ABC7 News contacted the South Korean consulate but it had no comment on the issue. ABC7 News also contact Stephen Palumbi, renowned whale expert at Stanford University. He says research can be done without killing whales. The captain of the Sea Shepherd says they will expect more confrontations between environmentalists and South Korean whaling vessels that go out to sea.