Japan was dealt a double blow today when the International Whaling Commission rejected its proposal to abolish a whale sanctuary and urged it not to double its quota of killing whales for disputed scientific research.
The proposal from Japan, which leads a group of nations wanting an end to a near 20-year moratorium on commercial whaling, failed to win the three-quarters of the votes needed abolish the Southern Ocean sanctuary.
Earlier, the IWC urged Japan to drop plans to more than double the numbers whales it hunts per year in the name of scientific research, and instead passed an Australia-sponsored resolution saying that Tokyo should not kill whales to study them.
South Korean activists hold a protest against whaling in April 2005. Greenland is to slash the number of endangered fin whales it catches, Denmark announced to the applause of conservationists. (AFP/File/Ahn Chul-Min)
The commission, which regulates global whaling, is holding it annual meeting in Ulsan, South Korea.
According to a report on FT.com, Japan responded defiantly, saying it will still expand its scientific whaling, a project which is not regulated by commission rules.
"Yes we will carry on, but we will of course accept constructive scientific comments but not political comments," Japan's chief whaling negotiator, Joji Morishita, was quoted as saying.
Richard Cowan, Britain's delegate to the meeting, said there was "no scientific justification whatsoever for lethal, scientific whaling".
Anti-whaling nations have already decried Japan's announcement earlier in the week that it would boost its annual take of minke whales from 440 to as many as 935 next year under its scientific project.
Australia's resolution urging Japan not to expand its scientific quota said the plan should be withdrawn unless the new research can be conducted without killing the marine mammals.
The Japanese claim they must kill whales to properly study them, including their stomach contents to glean details of their diets, while other nations argue that technological advances mean killing the whales is not necessary.
Japan sells the meat from the whales killed for science, which is allowed under commission rules. Critics call this commercial whaling in disguise.
Tokyo, which maintains that whaling is a national tradition and a vital part of its food culture, has said it is considering leaving the commission and would proceed regardless with plans to add humpbacks and fins, both endangered species, to the list of whales it catches for research.
"Science and law should prevail over emotions. We believe our research has been supported by science," Mr Morishita told reporters.
Despite losing the vote, Mr Morishita said his delegation was glad to see that 26 other nations voted alongside Japan. "We are so happy that we have that kind of support for our position," he said.
Fourteen of the 62 members of the commission are small developing countries which receive aid from Japan and vote the same way as their benefactor on the majority of issues.
Australia's motion came a day after the commission resoundingly rejected a proposal to end the nearly two-decade ban on commercial whaling, dealing a blow to Japan, Norway and other pro-whaling nations that say stocks of some species have recovered enough to allow limited hunts.
The IWC banned commercial hunts in 1986 because whales were near extinction after centuries of whaling. Norway holds the world's only commercial whaling season in defiance of the ban.
Legal loopholes mean that more whales will be killed this year than at any time since 1985. Japan and it allies, which advocate what they call "sustainable use" of whales, are expected to kill more than 1,550.
Countries led by Australia, New Zealand, Britain and conservation groups including Greenpeace are promoting alternative ways of profiting from whales, such as tourism and whale-watching. Reuters also reported that some Latin American countries and South Africa are looking to set up a South Atlantic sanctuary.
© Guardian Newspapers Limited 2005