SEOUL, South Korea -- South Korea says it may scrap research whaling plans that have been widely criticized.

Fisheries official Kang Joon-suk said Wednesday that Seoul may drop the plans if it finds ways to study whales without killing them.

The government said last week that it would allow the killing of whales for research because fishermen were complaining that whales were eating large amounts of fish.

The announcement drew protests from non-whaling nations and environmentalists who suspected the plan was a cover for commercial whaling.

Kang wouldn't describe how South Korea might conduct research without whaling. Australia uses sonar and satellite devices to track whales. The environmental group Greenpeace recommends analysis of feces to study whale diets.

South Korea had a long tradition of whaling before an international moratorium was introduced in 1986.

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  • A Humpback whale jumps in the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 16, 2013. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate annually from the Antarctic Peninsula to peek into the Colombian Pacific Ocean coast, with an approximate distance of 8,500 km, to give birth and nurse their young. Humpback whales have a life cycle of 50 years or so and is about 18 meters. AFP PHOTO/Luis ROBAYO

  • A Humpback whale jumps in the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 16, 2013. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate annually from the Antarctic Peninsula to peek into the Colombian Pacific Ocean coast, with an approximate distance of 8,500 km, to give birth and nurse their young. Humpback whales have a life cycle of 50 years or so and is about 18 meters. AFP PHOTO/Luis ROBAYO

  • A Humpback whale jumps in the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 16, 2013. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate annually from the Antarctic Peninsula to peek into the Colombian Pacific Ocean coast, with an approximate distance of 8,500 km, to give birth and nurse their young. Humpback whales have a life cycle of 50 years or so and are about 18 meters long. AFP PHOTO/Luis ROBAYO

  • A Humpback whale jumps in the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 16, 2013. Humpback whales (Megaptera novaeangliae) migrate annually from the Antarctic Peninsula to peek into the Colombian Pacific Ocean coast, with an approximate distance of 8,500 km, to give birth and nurse their young. Humpback whales have a life cycle of 50 years or so and are about 18 meters long. AFP PHOTO/Luis ROBAYO

  • NUUK, GREENLAND - JULY 27: Boats follow a whale as it swims in the water on July 27, 2013 in Nuuk, Greenland. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

  • A whale jumps to the surface off the coast of Libreville in Gabon on August 19, 2013. AFP PHOTO / STEPHANE BERRY

  • A Southern Right Whale breaches on September 5, 2013 in Hermanus, which has become known as a mecca for whale watching. During the southern hemisphere winter months (June - October) the Southern Right Whales migrate to the coastal waters of South Africa, with in excess of 100 whales known to be in the Hermanus area. Whilst in the area, the whales can be seen with their young as they come to Walker Bay to calve and mate. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE

  • A Southern Right Whale breaches on September 5, 2013 in Hermanus, which has become known as a mecca for whale watching. During the southern hemisphere winter months (June - October) the Southern Right Whales migrate to the coastal waters of South Africa, with in excess of 100 whales known to be in the Hermanus area. Whilst in the area, the whales can be seen with their young as they come to Walker Bay to calve and mate. AFP PHOTO / ALEXANDER JOE

  • A humpback whale tail breaches off Sydney Heads at the beginning of whale watching season during a Manly Whale Watching tour on June 23, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

  • A humpback whale emerges from the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 22, 2011. (LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A humpback whale is seen breaching outside of Sydney Heads at the beginning of whale watching season during a Manly Whale Watching tour on June 23, 2011 in Sydney, Australia.

  • In this photo taken July 21, 2011, a baby gray whale is seen with its mother in the Klamath River in Klamath, Calif.

  • An 8.5 metre-long juvenile humpback whale remains stranded on Anaconda beach in La Paloma, department of Rocha, in southeastern Uruguay, on January 27, 2011. AFP

  • A humpback whale is seen breaching outside of Sydney Heads at the beginning of whale watching season during a Manly Whale Watching tour on June 23, 2011 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

  • The tail of a humpback whale emerges from the surface of the Pacific Ocean at the Uramba Bahia Malaga natural park in Colombia, on July 22, 2011. (LUIS ROBAYO/AFP/Getty Images)

  • A franco-austral whale surfaces off the coast of Antoniopolis, in the Uruguayan department of Rocha, 220 km east of Montevideo, on September 22, 2012 during the migration to the south. AFP PHOTO/Pablo PORCIUNCULA

  • A franco-austral whale surfaces off the coast of Antoniopolis, in the Uruguayan department of Rocha, 220 km east of Montevideo, on September 22, 2012 during the migration to the south. AFP PHOTO/Pablo PORCIUNCULA

  • A Franco-austral whale surfaces off the coast of Arachania, Rocha, 225 km east of Montevideo, Uruguay, on September 21, 2012 during the migration to the south. AFP PHOTO/Pablo PORCIUNCULA

  • Watch As Whale Jumps Out Of Water And Bumps Canoe

    A couple canoeing in Maui film the moment when a breaching whale his their canoe while paddling out in the ocean.