In early July, when South Korea announced plans to restart whaling for “scientific purposes,” there was an onslaught of international criticism, but the decision was popular in this small city on the country’s southeast coast.
“We welcomed the news,” said Chun Myung-sook, owner of a whale meat restaurant in Ulsan. She speaks nostalgically about the days when whaling was legal. “Back then there were many restaurants and the area was very active. Now there are so few of us.”
Ulsan, on South Korea’s southeast coast, had been a hub of whaling since the Japanese brought their custom of whale hunting with them in the early 20th century. The whaling trade had its heyday during the 1930s, when stocks were plentiful and whales were big business. In Ulsan, large crowds would gather to see the world’s largest mammals disemboweled at the sea’s edge near Jangsaengpo port, where the few remaining whale restaurants still ply their trade.
Seoul’s initial decision to allow whaling for purposes of scientific research was announced at the International Whaling Commission’s annual meeting in Panama on July 4. The South Korean delegation argued research was needed because whales were consuming fish stocks off the South Korean coast and making it hard for fishermen to catch enough to earn a living…