A whale hunt targeting minke whales for research purposes would take place near the Korean coast, but how many would be caught under the proposal is unclear, the BBC reported Thursday.
The Wall Street Journal reported the 1986 International Whaling Commission ban on whaling makes a narrow exemption for whaling done for research purposes.
The South Korean delegation told a meeting of the International Whaling Commission the research was needed "for the proper assessment of whale stock," but many governments at the meeting condemned the proposal.
"We believe that scientific whaling on this [minke] stock borders on the reckless," New Zealand's delegation head, Gerard van Bohemen, said.
"I'm very disappointed by this announcement by South Korea," Australian Prime Minister Julia Gillard said. "We are completely opposed to whaling, there's no excuse for scientific whaling."
Joon-Suk Kang, head of the South Korean IWC delegation, said the proposed hunting was necessary to answer questions about minke whale stocks that non-lethal research had been unable to provide.
Conservation groups argue Japan's scientific whale hunts -- and Korea's, if allowed -- flout regulations designed to allow for the hunting of a few whales here and there, but not hundreds per year.
"This is commercial whaling, clear and simple," Australian IWC delegate Donna Petrochenko told the meeting.
The South Korean government banned commercial whaling the same year the ban went into effect, but still allows for the sale of meat from whales accidentally snared in fishing nets.