SOUTH Korea plans to start whaling through a loophole that allows the killing of whales for scientific research.
The announcement immediately triggered criticism by Australia, New Zealand and other anti-whaling nations that have long been infuriated by Japan's whaling expeditions in Antarctic waters.
South Korean delegate Park Jeong-Seok said that his country would submit its plans "in the spirit of trust, good faith and transparency" but stressed: "We are under no obligation to inform you in advance."
"As a responsible member of the commission, we do not accept any such categorical, absolute proposition that whales should not be killed or caught," he said.
"This is not a forum for moral debate, this is a forum for legal debate," Mr Park said of the Western criticism. "Such kind of moral preaching is not relevant or appropriate in this forum."
Kang Joon-Suk, the head South Korean commissioner, did not provide numbers, areas or a timeline for scientific whaling. But other delegates said they expected South Korea would target minke whales in the Sea of Japan, which Koreans call the East Sea.
The International Whaling Commission has imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling since 1986 amid fears for the survival of the ocean giants.
Japan has carried out whaling through a loophole in the Commission's rules that allow nations to conduct lethal research on whales, with the meat then going to consumption.
Norway and Iceland are the only nations that defy the moratorium entirely. Iceland also used to describe its whaling as scientific but shifted its position in 2006 and said it was commercial in nature.
South Korea carried out scientific whaling for one season after the 1986 moratorium went into effect. But whale meat remains popular in the coastal town of Ulsan, which serves remains of whales "accidentally" caught in nets.
The International Whaling Commission allows the processing of whales that are killed by accident, but activists have long charged that South Korea was turning a blind eye or even deliberately killing whales through nets.
The South Korean announcement came after Japan appealed to resume whaling along its coasts.
But Japan's whaling is limited near its own shores. In a proposal to International Whaling Commission, Japan called for a resumption of killing minke whales in its eastern coastal waters.
"The IWC's commercial whaling moratorium has caused us and our communities great distress for a quarter of a century," Yoshiichi Shimomichi, head of the Japan Small-Type Whaling Commission, told the conference.
"Our ancestors started utilising beached whales thousands of years ago," he said.
"Whale meat and blubber are integral parts of our culture... with traditional practices handed down from generation to generation."
Australia's envoy Donna Petrachenko strongly criticised Japan's proposal, saying that if approved it would mean "completely undermining the moratorium".
Australia - backed by the United States, New Zealand and most Latin American nations - said that international experts should complete assessments on the minke population before allowing any coastal hunting.
"We think that efforts need to be made to recover this whale population and that states concerned should be putting their efforts into a conservation management plan and building this stock," Ms Petrachenko said.
Faced with opposition, Japan did not immediately seek a vote. Japan could seek a vote before the week-long talks end on Friday after consulting allies.
The Commission could also vote on a proposal by Denmark to extend aboriginal rights to hunt whales including humpbacks in Greenland.
Latin American nations, along with Australia, India and other nations, have opposed Denmark's proposal after environmentalists' charges of a surplus of whale meat in Greenland.
While not killing minke whales, Japan each year kills thousands of other cetaceans unregulated by the International Whaling Commission off its coasts - most notoriously dolphins, which the western town of Taiji spears to death.