South Korea has said it may reverse a controversial plan to resume whaling for “scientific research” if other options to study the mammals were available.
An official said on Wednesday that the country may consider other ways to study whales without killing them.
South Korea had cited scientific research rules last week as a reason to restart whaling.
But critics say the move was simply commercial whaling in disguise.
“We may not conduct whaling for scientific research if there is another way to achieve the goal,” said Kang Joon-Suk, a senior official of South Korea’s Ministry of Food, Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.
He did not provide further details.
A South Korea delegation had announced during an International Whaling Commission meeting in Panama on 4 July that it would hunt whales under regulations permitting whaling for scientific research.
It said the research was needed “for the proper assessment of whale stocks”.
But this was met with criticism from governments like the US, Australia and New Zealand, as well as environmental groups.
South Korea has had a long tradition of whaling, especially in its Ulsan region, where fishermen already catch whales in fishing nets.
Officially, this happens accidentally, but local environment groups say the minkes are deliberately caught, and that the meat is easily bought in markets and restaurants, says the BBC’s environmental correspondent Richard Black.
An international moratorium on commercial whaling was imposed in 1986. But some countries like Japan conduct scientific whaling programmes.