Customs authorities in Busan, South Korea, have arrested six people for allegedly smuggling at least 4.6 tonnes of whale meat (worth around €400,000) into the country from Japan between February 2021 and June 2022.
Disguised as fish products, the whale meat entered South Korea via courier shipments and was eventually resold to whale meat restaurants in Busan and Ulsan.
DNA analysis revealed that most of the whale meat came from minke and Bryde's whales. According to the Washington Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), commercial trade in whales is strictly prohibited internationally.
In 2010, a similar case already attracted worldwide attention after it was revealed that meat of numerous whale species killed for so-called Japanese scientific study was offered in South Korean restaurants. As a result of this scandal, the South Korean government tightened its laws to the effect that only meat from verifiably caught species may be sold.
Under pressure from environmental organisations, among others, all dolphin species were finally declared protected in 2022, so that only minke whale meat may officially be traded within South Korea - the marketing of meat from about 40-50 minke whales is permitted per year. However, it is estimated that more than twice that amount is in circulation in the country.
‘Hundreds of whales and dolphins, including many endangered species, are being killed around the world for human financial interests - this has to stop. The South Korean government has already taken many important steps but, in the end, there needs to be an absolute ban on the sale and trade as well as consumption,’ says Katrin Matthes, anti-whaling campaigner with WDC.
According to Korean environmental campaigners, whale meat is only consumed by a minority in South Korea, similar to Japan.