The world's whale body today narrowly agreed to extend whaling rights for indigenous peoples, with Latin American powers unsuccessfully seeking to block a controversial hunt in the Caribbean.
The International Whaling Commission is notoriously polarized over whaling expeditions by Japan and Norway. Aboriginal hunts have generally been less contested as they are much smaller in scale and impact.
But at annual talks held in Panama City, proposals for new indigenous whaling quotas for the US state of Alaska and Russia's far northeast hit a snag as they were presented in a package with Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
The small Caribbean nation kills humpback whales, which are renowned for their intelligence. Activists charge that the hunt is not truly aboriginal as it was started by 19th-century white settlers, not in pre-colonial times.
The Commission voted 48-10 to set quotas for the next six years for indigenous whaling in the three countries. Nine of the countries opposed were from Latin America and they were joined by the African nation of Gabon.
Delegates from Brazil, Argentina and other Latin powers said that they did not oppose the US and Russian proposals but voted against the package due to concerns over the hunt in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines.
Major Latin American nations have been active in whale conservation and tried Monday to declare a whale no-kill sanctuary in the southern Atlantic, but Japan and its pro-whaling allies defeated the proposal.
Saint Kitts and Nevis, a tiny Caribbean nation that is allied with Japan, furiously criticized Latin American nations that opposed whaling in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, and demanded that they apologize.
"Some countries are trying to impose their will on a small vulnerable country," the country's delegate Daven Joseph said, charging that whaling opponents showed "colonialism rebirth" and elements of racism."
But Louise Mitchell Joseph, an environmentalist and daughter of a former prime minister of Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, said that most residents did not eat whale meat and that it was a delicacy for a small niche.
She said that islanders had more economical ways to obtain protein and that whaling hurt tourism, the most vital industry for the Caribbean nation.
"It is a practice that we simply cannot afford as a country to continue. The whaling activities of a small community should not be allowed to have such devastating impact on the rest of society," said Joseph, part of the Eastern Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness.
The US-based Animal Welfare Institute charges that Saint Vincent and the Grenadines has used cruel methods including trying to puncture whales' hearts or lungs and targeting calves and their mothers.
US representative Douglas DeMaster refused to dump the proposal from Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, saying that the Caribbean nation was addressing concerns and that the three nations' quotas merely preserved the status quo.
Australia and New Zealand, which staunchly oppose whaling expeditions near their waters by Japan, joined European nations in supporting the indigenous whaling proposal.
India and Monaco, both staunch advocates for whale conservation, abstained from voting.
"To me, a tradition initiated by a settlers family as recently as 1875 does not qualify as aboriginal," said Monaco's delegate Frederic Briand.
Saint Vincent and the Grenadines will now have the right to kill up to 24 humpback whales between 2013 and 2018. It said that all meat will be consumed domestically.
Russia's Inuits and other indigenous people will be able to hunt up to 744 gray whales between 2013 and 2018, while native Alaskans will have the right to kill up to 336 bowhead whales over the same time period.
The International Whaling Commission later Tuesday considered a separate proposal for Greenland to allow the hunting of up to 1,326 whales between 2013 and 2018, including up to 10 humpback whales a year.
The proposal has drawn criticism, with the Animal Welfare Institute saying that 77 per cent of restaurants in Greenland served whale meat.
"Aboriginal whaling is supposed to be for subsistence, so if the whale meat is being served to tourists there is obviously a surplus," said Susan Millward, executive director of the institute.