ULSAN, South Korea (AP) – The International Whaling Commission on Thursday rejected Japan’s proposal to allow limited hunts of minke whales, dealing another blow to its efforts to roll back a worldwide moratorium on commercial whaling.

The commission, which regulates global whaling, defeated the proposal at its annual meeting 29-to-26 with three abstentions.

The country has yet to win any major vote at this year’s meeting, with members upholding a nearly 20-year moratorium on commercial whale hunts and calling for Japan to stop killing the mammals for scientific research.

Japan proposed killing up to 150 minke whales in waters off its northern coast to “alleviate the hardships of small coastal whaling communities.”

Tokyo’s latest attempt came a day after commission urged the country to drop plans to more than double the number of whales it hunts each year for scientific research, passing an Australia-sponsored resolution saying that Tokyo shouldn’t kill the whales to study them.

Anti-whaling nations took issue with Japan’s announcement earlier this week that it would boost its annual take of minke whales from 440 to as many as 935 next year and kill as many as 50 humpback and fin whales each after a two-year feasibility study.

The nations voted 30-27 for an Australian resolution that said Japan’s plan should be withdrawn unless the new research can be conducted without killing the whales. The resolution also called for a review of the results of the current research program.

Japan says it must kill whales to properly study them, including their stomach contents to glean details of their diets. It then sells the meat, which is allowed under commission rules.

Critics call it commercial whaling in disguise.

The United States has criticized the program, arguing that scientific advances allow researchers to adequately study whales while they are still alive. That view was echoed by the World Wide Fund for Nature.

“It’s not good science,” Sue Lieberman, director of WWF’s global species program, said after the vote.

Japan’s chief whaling negotiator, Joji Morishita, was upbeat, telling reporters that his delegation was glad to see that 26 other nations supported Japan.

“We are sure that we have a simple majority in the organization,” he said, adding that some small IWC member nations that could not afford to attend the meeting also would have supported Tokyo’s position.

Australia’s motion came a day after the commission resoundingly rejected a proposal to end the nearly two-decade ban on commercial whaling, dealing another 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 species were near extinction after centuries of whaling. Norway holds the world’s only commercial whaling season in defiance of the ban.

Japan and other pro-whaling nations knew they had virtually no chance of garnering the three-quarters majority needed to overturn the moratorium at this year’s gathering.

Also Wednesday, the commission rejected a Japanese motion to abolish the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary by a 30-25 vote with two abstentions. That vote also required a three-quarters majority to pass.

Japan maintains that whaling is a national tradition and a vital part of its food culture.

Conservation groups, including Greenpeace, and countries led by Australia and New Zealand are promoting alternative ways of profiting from whales, such as through tourism and whale-watching.

On the Net:

International Whaling Commission: http://www.iwcoffice.org

Greenpeace: http://www.greenpeace.org.uk

Institute of Cetacean Research: http://www.icrwhale

Japan Whaling Association: http://www.whaling.jp/english/

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