Japan has suffered a pair of setbacks in its quest to expand its controversial catch of whales. But the votes by the International Whaling Commission will not prevent Japan from implementing an expanded whaling plan.
The International Whaling Commission narrowly approved a non-binding resolution urging Japan to abandon its plan to expand its so-called research whaling. At the plenary session in Ulsan, South Korea, 30 countries voted in favor of the resolution and 27 opposed it.
Later in the day, the International Whaling Commission rejected Japan's proposal to expand its scientific whaling in the Antarctic Ocean sanctuary by a 25-to-30 vote. A three-quarters majority of the 66-member nations would have been required to end the decade-old moratorium.
Japanese officials say even though they lost the vote, and another Tuesday on lifting the 19-year moratorium on commercial whaling, the narrow margins demonstrate that Japan's pro-whaling stance is gaining support among IWC member states.
Many IWC member nations from the Caribbean and Africa back Japan. Anti-whaling states accuse those countries of supporting Tokyo's positions primarily in exchange for foreign aid from Japan.
The anti-whaling bloc is led by Australia. Prime Minister John Howard says Tokyo has been exploiting a loophole in the 19-year-old ban on commercial whaling, and is actually hunting whales for food.
"We do feel very strongly. It has united public opinion in Australia and I hope that Japan will take note our how strongly countries that are traditionally very sympathetic to Japan's position in the world feel on this subject," he said.
Japan on Monday unveiled a six-year plan to double its catch of Antarctic minke whales to more than 900 animals, and also to hunt 50 humpback and the same number of fin whales.
Conservation groups say the humpbacks and fin whales are threatened species. But they and the International Whaling Commission will be powerless to stop Japan, because its scientific research program is not regulated under commission rules.
Japan's Fisheries Agency predicts a "historical reversal" at next year's IWC meeting, when it says the pro-whaling bloc will have the majority of votes. Iceland is the only other country conducting research whaling, while Norway is the only nation engaged in overt commercial whaling, which it resumed in 1993.
Japan defends its research whaling as legitimate science, saying it is very important to examine stomach contents and ear wax of whales for data about the animals and how they are faring in their environment.
Anti-whaling groups say none of the research Japan conducts requires killing the whales.