Though it is illegal to directly hunt minke whales in South Korea, those caught in fishing nets can be killed and sold as "bycatch" if officially reported. Economic incentives make such pursuits attractive, said Baker, who pointed out that individual whales are thought to fetch as much as $100,000.
"The obvious question becomes how much of the mortality is caused by incidental bycatch, and how much of it is actually intentional," Baker said. "Beyond that, if more whales are being killed than reported, why aren't they being reported" Is it to avoid scrutiny of the practice" Or are there other reasons""
The exploitation of illegal, unregulated and unreported seafood products is not restricted to minke whales, or even whales in general, nor is it a new dilemma. Scientists estimate that illegal Soviet whaling in the aftermath of World War II claimed about 48,000 humpback whales; the actual number reported was 3,000. Dolphins and other whale species also have been exploited without regulation or reporting in many countries.
"The incentive, obviously, is financial," Baker said. "The result of under-reporting whale mortality is not simply the decline of the species and their ability to sustain their populations ?it is the increasing difficulty the situation creates for protecting these animals."