New Delhi: South Korea has made a proposal at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Panama city on Wednesday, to hunt whales for scientific research.
"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," said an official at the Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries Ministry in Seoul.
"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 were complaining that growing whale populations were depleting fishing stocks, an assertion that the World Wildlife Fund said had no scientific basis.
Environmental activists dismissed the term scientific whaling as a thinly veiled ruse to conduct commercial whaling.
"It`s an absolute shock this happened at this meeting and it`s an absolute disgrace because to say that hunting whales is happening in the name of science is just wrong," James Lorenz from Greenpeace told Australian television. "Essentially, it`s commercial whaling in another form."
The minke whales that South Korea proposes hunting are considered endangered, the World Wildlife Fund said in a statement.
Former Australian Environment Minister Ian Campbell, now on the board of the anti-whaling activist group Sea Shepherd, said the organization would "have to get organized to go out to the oceans and save the whales off South Korea".
Australia has long opposed Japanese whaling and Gillard said it would lodge a diplomatic protest against South Korea`s move.
"We will make our voices heard today," she told reporters. "Our ambassador will speak to counterparts in South Korea at the highest levels of the South Korea government and indicate Australia`s opposition to this decision."
Australia has filed a complaint against Japan at the International Court of Justice in The Hague to stop scientific whaling. A decision is expected in 2013 or later.
New Zealand Foreign Minister Murray McCully said the announcement was a setback to global conservation efforts as whales in its waters were already targeted by Japan.
"The portrayal of this initiative as a `scientific` program will have no more credibility than the so-called scientific program conducted by Japan, which has long been recognized as commercial whaling in drag," he said in a statement.
(With Agency Inputs)