Black Market Whale Meat Seized in South Korea

As the Sea Shepherd ship Steve Irwin pursues the Japanese whaling fleet in the Southern Oceans, the South Korean police concluded their investigation of illegal trading in whale meat by busting a poaching ring and seizing more than 50 tons of whale meat.

Police raided two refrigerated warehouses in the Southeastern port of Ulsan. Police estimate that the meat comes from about 60 piked whales.

It was reported that over 70 people including fishermen, distributors and middlemen have been taken into custody for questioning. Included in this group are owners of 46 whale meat restaurants.

The trade in whale meat in South Korea is similar to the trade of shark fins in Ecuador. It goes on because of a loophole in the law.

In Ecuador it is illegal to use longlines to catch sharks for shark fins however if sharks are caught by accident on the lines then the shark fins may be sold. Since this revision in the law in Ecuador, the take of shark fins has risen dramatically.

In Korean it is illegal to kill whales but if whales are caught accidently in nets as bycatch, the meat can be sold to the market. With each piked whale worth about $37,000 U.S. there is a huge incentive for "accidental" takes and the average is about 200 whales caught in nets annually.

Not content with the 200 whales caught and reported as by-catch, the Korean police believe an additional 200 whales are killed and not reported.

Illegal whaling is very primitive in Korea utilizing small boat and harpoons. The whales drag the boats around for hours before bleeding to death. The whales are butchered at sea and the meat smuggled ashore.