PETER FROST has made friends with whales at home and abroad. Now South Korea and other nations still want to kill them.
Each spring thousands of whales head south, down the east coast of Australia. Last year my wife Ann and I were lucky enough to spend a holiday following them in a campervan.
The magnificent and intelligent creatures had spent their winter giving birth to their calves in the tropical waters off Northern Australia. Now they were heading for the rich krill feeding grounds that is the Antarctic in summer.
On the way south we spotted many playful family groups from beaches and headlands along the coast. Most were humpbacks some up to 50 foot long and weighing 35 tonnes – that’s heavier than three double-decker buses.
Other whales were the similar size southern right whale, cynically named by the early whalers because it was exactly the right whale to catch. Most spectacular but less common were the 100 foot sperm whales.
We’ve been lucky enough to see whales all over the world, New England and New Zealand, California, Norway, Iceland, and the Faroe Islands.
Nearer home we actually reckon you can’t beat Shetland and Britain’s other Northern Isles to see whales and other cetacean species.
We had just loaded our campervan on the Sunday lunchtime ferry between Shetland’s mainland and the island of Yell. Five minutes out the captain made a curious announcement.
“Can I ask if anyone is in a hurry?” his voice crackled over the speaker “because I’ve just seen a pod of orcas and if nobody is in a rush I think we should take a closer look.”
Much later we docked on Yell. It is normally only a 20 minute trip but we had spent over an hour with six amazing killer whales.
Meanwhile in South Korea
That’s why I was really angry this month when South Korea announced it was to hunt whales under regulations permitting scientific research.
South Korea is using the same dubious excuse that Japan uses. Once a small so-called scientific sample of the whale has been taken the remaining tons of expensive meat and blubber are on their way to posh sushi restaurants.
South Korea will join the small but distasteful club of nations who ignore world opinion and the global moratorium on the bloody slaughter which reached its peak in 1962 with 66.000 kills. Biggest whaling fleets are from Norway, Iceland and Japan.
The Koreans announced their plans at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) held in Panama last week at the 64th annual meeting of the Commission which is increasingly being accused of being toothless by more militant campaigners for sea mammals.
The 89 member IWC is only concerned with larger species of whale. Future Commission meeting will be every two years.
In Panama last week Japan scuppered widely supported international plans for a whale sanctuary in the South Atlantic and an attempt to get the United Nations to debate the hunting of all cetaceans.
Japan pays the IWC subscriptions for small whaling states – including the new Chair Jeannine Compton-Antoine’s St Lucia – to get the 25 per cent vote it needed for these vetoes.
Some smaller nations claim whaling is a cultural tradition. The Faroese drive huge pods of pilot whales ashore in shallow bays and then kill them with knives in a bloody slaughter they call grindadráp.
Denmark lost the IWC vote to let Greenland Inuit kill more whales. Delegates decided this was actually a disguised commercial whale meat industry. Greenland may yet defy the vote.
The commission agreed that in Caribbean Bequia, another of Japan’s paid allies, four humpbacks whales can be hand harpooned each year.
Other yearly aboriginal subsistence quotas include 120 gray whales in Chukotka in northeast Russia. Similarly Alaska’s Inupiat people are allowed to take 56 bowhead whales annually.
Today catching whales ‘accidentally’ in fishing nets is already common in South Korea. Whale meat is easily found in markets and restaurants.
South Korea was one of the first countries to use the scientific whaling excuse after the 1986 IWC global whaling moratorium. International pressure and protest stopped them then. It can again.
This article first published in the Morning Star, July 2012