Ulsan, South Korea has an entire festival dedicated to whaling!

When most people think of Ulsan, one word usually comes to mind: industry. Ulsan is home to a giant car manufacturing plant, shipyards and even chemical plants. Not everyone knows about Ulsan’s rich history. Migratory whales have been swimming in the waters near Ulsan since the prehistoric times, long before Hyundai moved to town and turned this area into the major city that it is today. Whale hunting was a large part of the livelihood of the early inhabitants of Ulsan and because of that, the people of Ulsan are very proud of their history of whaling. The city mascot is even a whale.

Taehwagang Grand Park in Ulsan, South Korea

Whale landscaping at Taehwagang Grand Park

The whale festival takes place at the Taehwa River Grand Park. It’s typically held at the end of April, but this year it was postponed due to the Sewol Ferry tragedy. In 2014, the festival will take place from Thursday, July 3 – Sunday, July 6.

Taehwagang Grand Park in Ulsan, South Korea

Taehwagang Grand Park

The most popular event at the festival is the dragon boat racing. Each year the foreigners are able to put together teams and compete against each other. Foreigners come from all over Korea to compete in these races because they are so much fun!

There was a bit of controversy surrounding the event this year because the whale festival committee nearly banned foreigners from participating in the dragon boat race. It caused a lot of upset in the foreigner community in Ulsan. Fortunately, the committee had a change of heart and the competition for foreigners will go on as usual.

Other events at the festival include a show where the participants are dressed in prehistoric outfits and hunt after a breakdancing guy who must be a prey of some sort, while the chief watches on.

After the breakdancing enemy has been captured, the chief will lead everyone to the riverside for some old fashioned whale hunting, where men in dragon boats chase after a mechanical whale in the river. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers, but the whalers end up winning.

Ulsan Whale Festival


The whale festival is really interesting and a lot of fun! It’s definitely worth checking out. For a full list of activities and time tables, you can visit the Ulsan Whale Festival’s English website.

Date: Thursday, July 3 – Sunday, July 6
Location: Taehwagang Grand Park
Address: Ulsan, Nam-gu, Sinjeong1-dong 391 (울산광역시 남구 신정동 391)

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33 thoughts on “Ulsan, South Korea has an entire festival dedicated to whaling!

  1. I had a lot of fun at the whale festival last year but I still felt a little uncomfortable with celebrating whaling. Obviously it was more about celebrating and remembering past traditions, so it was still super interesting! The whale boat race was a blast as well!

  2. They don’t still whale in Korea, right?! I know that in some parts of the world (Norway, I think?) they still have big whaling festivals and actually kill the whales. Anyway, the festival looks cool! I actually like Ulsan, I live in Daegu but we have nights out in Ulsan every now and then and it’s got a nice vibe and a cool international community. And you guys have way more foreign food options than us! :p

    • Ulsan has such a huge expat community (teachers, engineers, students) so we have lots of delicious restaurants to choose from!

      The whale at the festival is mechanical, but Koreans do have whale meat restaurants. Not sure where they get it from, but I know they do still eat it occasionally.

  3. Well how cool! Your photos really give us a great introduction to the festival. The dragon racing looks like fun, and I love the whale landscaping.

    • Thanks, Nan! It’s a really fun festival and it’s very close to our apartment, which is really convenient.

      Even though it’s smaller than Texas, there’s so much history here and there’s much more to see. Plus, they are really good about putting on festivals to celebrate just about anything the country has/had to offer.

  4. Sounds like a great festival! If I’m free this weekend, I might have to come check it out 🙂 Great pictures, I love the ones of the prehistoric hunt/dance.

  5. This looks so much more interesting than I had expected it to be! Too bad we already have plans this weekend. Does korea still hunt whale? Or is the whale eaten here from elsewhere? I know it causes a lot of controversy but I feel like I see so many whale restaurants in our province!
    The way you described the breakdancing hunt made me laugh out loud, it just sounds so bizarre. 😛
    Have fun this weekend!

  6. This is so random! Korea is so random! I’m especially intrigued by this show and of prehistoric hunters after a breakdancing enemy. I never thought I’d put those things in the same sentence. Wish I could go this weekend, it looks like fun!

  7. When I first saw this title, I thought it would more of a celebration dedicated to celebrating whales- some sort of mystical entity or something. Although it’s lovely to capture the essence of cultural history and old practices, it seems to be a bit of a shame to celebrate the killing of such majestic animals. If only they had known then what “Whale Wars” between the West and the Japanese would come to be! Beautiful photos, though. I particularly love the costumes.

    • Yeah, it’s a shame about the whaling industry. Ulsan’s claim to fame (before Hyundai was around) was the whales so it makes sense that it’s one of their biggest festivals of the year. I did find out you can try whale meat there though so it may not be as innocent as I had previously thought.

  8. Wow this looks pretty awesome. Definitely one of the more unique things I’ve read about in Korea. Interesting how they honor an old tradition that many people frown upon today.

  9. I love that you got pictures of the performers and their outfits. I wanted to see them but missed the show.
    The drama over foreigners competing this year was interesting. I was actually going to participate on a team, but when the dates were changed and our team fell a part. Great photos!

  10. Pingback: Ulsan Whale Festival

  11. It’s probably not for everyone. I’m so excited for that dragon boat racing.
    I’ve never seen it, but I’m so putting that on the calendar now!

  12. Pingback: Whale, Hello There: What to do at the Ulsan Whale Festival - A Place Like Me In A Girl Like This

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