The moratorium on Japanese coastal whaling is going to remain in place. The International Whaling Commission on Thursday sank Japan's request to catch up to 150 minke whales off its northern Pacific coast.

This was the third year in a row Japan requested resumption of coastal whaling, which has been prohibited since 1986. But the IWC, meeting in Ulsan, South Korea, voted against lifting the moratorium, 29 to 26 with three countries abstaining. It would have taken a three-quarters majority for the measure to pass.

Japan contends that there are about 25,000 minke whales in the north Pacific - a number it says allows sustainable culling. It says small communities, which once thrived because of coastal whaling, are suffering under the ban.

Earlier in the week, Japan's attempt to end the general moratorium on commercial whaling was also defeated.

Australia and New Zealand, along with the United States, are among the most strident voices opposing whaling. But as the director of international policy for the World Wildlife Fund, Gordon Shepherd, points out, Japan is gaining support from countries that have joined the IWC in recent years. "Things have been getting fairly heated because, regrettably, as always, this is a very split convention, with the pro-whaling lobby being quite strident about the need for whaling to resume. But (there are) some very eloquent and vociferous supporters from the Caribbean, and the Pacific and West Africa, who speak on behalf of the Japanese," he said.

The commission on Wednesday, approving an Australian-sponsored resolution, asked Japan to abandon plans to more than double the number of whales it hunts each year. Japan says those whales are killed for scientific research, which is permitted under IWC regulations.

Anti-whaling activists say Japan is exploiting a loophole to conduct what amounts to commercial whaling, noting that the meat from Japan's research activities is sold in supermarkets and sushi bars throughout the country.