'Short of votes'
Tokyo has been actively seeking to overturn a 21-year whaling ban, winning a symbolic one-vote majority last year.
But anti-whaling forces say that with the recent addition of several pro-moratorium IWC members, Tokyo's influence in the 75-member group is slipping and it remains far from having the three-fourth's majority needed to scrap the 1986 ban at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) annual meeting in Alaska next week.
"Japan's position on particular areas like dietary culture is being understood to a certain extent"
Hideaki Okada, Japan Fisheries Agency
Junichi Sato, the oceans project manager for anti-whaling environmentalist group Greenpeace Japan, said the moratorium was "100 per cent ... safe".
Despite conceding the lack of support, Japanese officials said their arguments that the IWC should manage rather than ban whaling is gaining ground.
Helen Clark, New Zealand's prime minister and a leading critic of whale hunting, said on Monday the IWC is "quite finely poised at the present time between countries that support the conservation of whales and countries that don't".
In March, Japan said it would hunt minke, fin and humpback whales when its scientific programme, which is allowed by the IWC, resumes later this year.
|Critics dismiss Japan's claim that it hunts |
whales for scientific research [EPA]
Japan hunts about 1,000 whales each year in the name of scientific research. It says it sells the whale meat to fund the programme.
While repeatedly denying anti-whaling countries' accusations that it offers aid to IWC members in return for pro-whaling votes, Japan has also been open about its drive to recruit supporters to the IWC.
Tokyo last week cheered landlocked Laos's intention to join, an announcement that came after Japan offered the impoverished South-East Asian country $1m in aid to clear unexploded bombs.
Japan denied any connection to whaling but says it is confident of gaining some sympathy support on its right to hunt the mammals as a whale-meat eating nation, said Hideaki Okada of Japan's Fisheries Agency.
"I think it's 50-50," Okada said. "But I do feel that Japan's position on particular areas like dietary culture is being understood to a certain extent."
One focus of the meeting in Anchorage was expected to be a Japanese drive to win coastal whaling recognition under provisions similar to those that allow certain indigenous groups – such as those in Alaska – to hunt the mammals.
The IWC meeting follows a tumultuous year in Japanese whaling.
Arguing the commission was politicised and becoming irrelevant, Tokyo hosted an alternative whaling meeting in February, which was boycotted by anti-whaling countries.
The meeting ended with a statement accusing whaling opponents of "imperialism" for imposing the moratorium and threatened to quit the IWC unless it is reformed.