Japan says it will consider its membership of the International Whaling Commission after the 89-member body rejected the country's attempt to return to commercial whale hunting.
The Japanese proposal was defeated by a vote of 41 to 27 at a meeting of the Commission in Brazil on Friday.
The global body suspended commercial whaling in the 1980s, but Japan has argued repeatedly that stocks have recovered sufficiently for the ban to be lifted.
Ban was only a 'temporary measure'
It insists that no good reason exists to maintain what was meant to be a temporary measure.
Other countries argued that many whale populations are still vulnerable and that whaling is increasingly seen as unacceptable.
Read more: Whales will have to wait for safe haven
Japan's vice-minister for fisheries Masaaki Taniai said he "regretted" the outcome.
"If scientific evidence and diversity is not respected, if commercial whaling is completely denied... Japan will be pressed to undertake a fundamental reassessment of its position as a member of the IWC."
Anti-whaling nations led by Australia, the European Union and the United States, opposed Japan's "Way Forward" plan, which included the establishment of a sustainable whaling committee within the IWC.
Several Asia and African countries along with Pacific and Caribbean island nations voted with Japan.
The Russian Federation, which allows some subsistence whaling, said it abstained because it did not want to exacerbate an already "deep split within the commission."
Conservation over sustainable hunting
Despite pro-whaling nations complaining that the IWC's emphasis has leant too far towards conservation, the Commission went further, by adopting a declaration proposed by Brazil, which envisages whale protection in perpetuity.
Nick Gales, Australia's commissioner to the IWC, said during a debate on Thursday that the case for a resumption of commercial whaling is "a business proposition against which many parties hold legitimate environmental and welfare concerns."
Read more: What can stop Japan's 'gruesome' whale hunting program?
Patrick Ramage, director of marine conservation at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, noted that Japan has frequently threatened to pull out of the body.
The measure's "adoption would have been a big step backwards ... returning us to the bygone days of open commercial whaling instead of becoming a modern conservation body," he said in a statement.
The Japanese have hunted whales for centuries and see it as a cheaper alternative source of protein.
Tokyo currently observes the moratorium but exploits a loophole to kill hundreds of whales every year for "scientific purposes" as well as to sell the meat.
Norway and Iceland ignore the moratorium and are key supporters of Japan's bid to resume commercial whaling.
mm/jm (AFP, AP)
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