South Korea whaling plan a 'serious setback'

South Korea's plan to resume whaling is a "serious setback" in international conservation efforts, Foreign Affairs Minister Murray McCully says.

Kang Joon-Suk, the South Korean delegate to an International Whaling Commission (IWC) gathering in Panama, told the secretariat the country was considering conducting whaling for scientific research.

Its government had conducted non-lethal sighting surveys of the whale population to assess the status of the stock in its waters but it alone could not identify the different whale stocks, he said.

The programme was planned for the Pacific northwest, an area already heavily targeted by the Japanese.

"The portrayal of this initiative as a 'scientific' programme will have no more credibility than the so-called scientific programme conducted by Japan, which has long been recognised as commercial whaling in drag," McCully said.

McCully said he hoped South Korea's leaders would consider the concerns of New Zealand and other countries before making a final decision.

"Any action by Korea to commence whaling in these waters following today's announcement will have serious consequences," he said.

He said if they went ahead with it, "I believe there will be strong and public outcry around the world."

And South Korea's plans would place further pressure on the IWC which was already having difficulties.

"In this day and age there is simply no need to kill whales in order to conduct effective research."

Whaling by the Koreans would be a "serious setback for those who are committed to conservation of the species", he said.

The Ambassador in Seoul will raise the issue with the Korean Government and the New Zealand contingent at the IWC meeting underway in Panama.

"It is to be hoped that Korea will now give serious consideration to the widespread and strong objections being raised," McCully said.

New Zealand had tried to be a peacemaker at the IWC and resolve difficulties, particularly with Japan, but instead found itself "being used as target practice for both sides."

McCully would meet with the Korean Foreign Minister Kim Sung-hwan next week and would raise the issue.

New Zealand already had issues with Korea damaging New Zealand's fishing reputation with foreign charter vessels in the exclusive economic zone.

"(Whaling will) provide another topic for lively discussion," he said.

Australia's Treasurer Wayne Swan says his government  is "absolutely opposed'' to whaling but has declined to comment on South Korea’s plans.

The coalition and Australian Greens have called on the government to put diplomatic pressure on Seoul to rethink such a move.

"This government is absolutely opposed to commercial whaling,''  Swan told reporters in Brisbane.

"And we are absolutely opposed to any arrangement that might  seek to disguise commercial whaling as scientific whaling.''

But he did not take specific aim at South Korea.

"We don't know enough about the reports that have emerged  overnight to say any more than that,'' he said.

Kang told the IWC gathering the minke whale population had recovered since a whaling moratorium began, he said.

''As a result, fishermen in this area are consistently calling  for limited whaling,'' he said.

''This is because they are experiencing disturbances in their  fishing activities due to frequent occurrences of cetaceans in  their fishing grounds and an increasing number of minke whales are  eating away large amount of fish stocks which should be consumed by  human being (sic).''

Kang 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 IWC has imposed a moratorium on commercial whaling since  1986 amid fears for the survival of the ocean giants.

But it appears South Korea will join Japan in exploiting a  loophole that allows the killing of whales for scientific research.

South Korean delegates said they would submit future whaling  plans to a scientific committee of the global body but were not  looking for approval by other nations.

- Stuff with AAP