South Korea wants to resume whaling for scientific research, angering other Asian countries and conservationists.
Australian prime minister Julia Gillard said she would fight the proposal, made at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Panama.
Critics said the move to pursue whaling in domestic waters was modelled on Japan’s introduction of scientific whaling after the IWC imposed a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling.
Japan says it has a right to monitor the whales’ impact on its fishing industry. South Korea says whaling is a long-standing cultural tradition.
In Seoul, a government official said South Korea abided by international regulations and it would be up to the IWC to assess its plan. “We’ve submitted a proposal to the IWC’s scientific committee to resume scientific whaling in our waters and will await the committee’s assessment,” the official said.
“If it says it is not adequate in their assessment of the legitimacy of scientific research, we’ll make further preparations.”
South Korea said its fishermen had complained growing whale populations were depleting fishing stocks, an assertion the World Wildlife Fund said had no scientific basis. It also said the minke whales that South Korea proposed hunting were considered endangered.
Ms Gillard said her country would lodge a diplomatic protest against South Korea’s move. “Our ambassador will speak to counterparts at the highest levels of the South Korea government and indicate Australia’s opposition to this decision,” she said.
Panama’s delegate to the IWC conference, Tomas Guardia, said: “We don’t support whale hunting under any circumstances.”