The Korean Peninsula is located at the temperate zone and its’ waters have a diverse collection of marine organisms that show their rise and fall seasonally. These diversity and seasonal changes attract higher predators such as dolphins, whales and seals into the rich feeding grounds. Or some marine mammals just pass through the Korean waters as they migrate southward or northward.
The evidence that marine mammals have been thriving in Korean waters and had close relations with humans still exists on the 6,000 years old Petroglyph Bangudae around Ulsan, Korea. The paintings on the rock by prehistoric ancient people show us the detailed descriptions of land and marine animals including right, gray, humpback, sperm and killer whales with easily identified points.
However the descendants of painters had not utilized marine mammal resources in Korean waters for a long time because they were Buddhist or Confusions of agrarian society. In the 19th century, many whaling vessels from European countries and the U.S. came to Korean waters and harvested the masterless whales. After the western whalers, Japanese monopolized the resources from the early 20th century to the World War II. During the Japanese colonial era, the whaling company hired Korean crews and gave their whaling vessels to Koreans as gratuity when they returned to Japan after the WW II. That was the true starting point of commercial whaling in Korean waters by Korean whalers.
Twenty one Korean whaling vessels took annually hundreds of whales, mainly common minke whales, until the IWC moratorium on commercial whaling came in to effect in 1986. The government of Korea revised the Fisheries Law and the word ‘whaling’ was disappeared in the law and consequently the interests and research for whaling or whales faded away.
But some local elder Korean’s taste for whale meat still continued and meats from animals caught incidentally by fishing gears have been utilized. Sometimes these demands lead illegal catches of animals. So the Korean government established the Cetacean Research Institute in 2004 in order to conserve and manage the cetacean animals. The CRI has research programs on common minke whale assessment, bycatch monitoring, DNA registration and ecological status of dolphins and spotted seals.
Dr. Yong-Rock An majored in oceanography at the Busan National University and finished his master and doctor degrees in fisheries ecology at the Pukyoung National University.
He has been working as a research scientist at the Cetacean Research Institute of National Fisheries Research and Develop Institute, Republic of Korea and as a national delegate to the IWC Scientific Committee since 2004.