FRIGATE BAY, St Kitts and Nevis - Japan's attempts to "blackmail" the United States over Alaska's bowhead whaling hunting quota are "outrageous", former New Zealand Prime Minister Sir Geoffrey Palmer has said.

Sir Geoffrey made the coments at the annual meeeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in St Kitts and Nevis, in the Caribbean.

The United States said on Tuesday it would not be cutting any deals with Japan over Alaska's bowhead whale hunting quota as it prepares to host an international whaling group next year.

New Zealand said it was outraged at Japan's apparent attempt to blackmail the United States - a moderate IWC voice - over the bowhead quota.

"I don't think this sort of diplomatic blackmail is ever going to yield any result," New Zealand IWC commissioner Sir Geoffrey Palmer said.

"The United States stands between the whales and oblivion."

US National Marine Fisheries Service Director Bill Hogarth said Japan had threatened a "blow-up" over the aboriginal quota for Eskimos if Washington did not give some ground on Japan's demand that a 1986 moratorium against commercial whaling be overturned.

"We don't plan to cut a deal. We don't expect to be held hostage," Hogarth told reporters at the end of the meeting.

The great whales were almost driven into extinction by the time the IWC imposed the moratorium.

But Japan, Norway, Iceland and other pro-whaling nations say some species have recovered and can be hunted again in a sustainable way.

Japan and Iceland conduct scientific research whaling, Norway ignores the moratorium and more than 25,000 whales have been killed in the last two decades.

The IWC also allows indigenous communities with a tradition of hunting whales to kill a limited number of a specific species each year.

Alaska's Eskimos can kill 41 bowheads - a whale that can grow to 18.5 metres, weigh up to 90 metric tonnes, and is thought to number 12,000 worldwide.

The quota is up for renewal when the United States hosts the IWC annual meeting in Anchorage, Alaska, next year, and needs 75 per cent support in the fractious commission to pass.

Japan managed to gather majority support in the IWC for the first time in more than two decades at the June 16-20 St Kitts meeting, but only in one pro-whaling vote. And Tokyo has questioned the bowhead quota before, to US consternation.

"Japan has made it very clear that they think that something has to be done before next year's meeting to help them or we could have another blow-up over the bowhead," Hogarth said.

"We'll talk but we don't plan on making any deals."

A Japanese spokesman said Tokyo's decision on the US bowhead quota would be based on "scientific evidence".

But Japanese officials have indicated they believe the one pro-whaling vote they managed to secure at the St Kitts meeting reflected a subtle change in the balance of power within the IWC.

"This is not the same old IWC as far as we are concerned," Japan's alternate IWC commissioner, Joji Morishita, told Reuters.

Tokyo wants to see an end to an impasse between pro-whaling nations and countries like Australia and New Zealand, which believe all whales should be protected forever.

It has invited all those willing to consider a form of regulated whale hunting to a meeting in Japan early next year.