TOKYO: A proposal to create a whale sanctuary in the southern Atlantic lacked "scientific backing", Japan said Tuesday after leading the charge to scupper the plan at an international meeting.
"Japan carries out whaling on scientific grounds," said Shigehito Numata of the Japanese Fisheries Agency's whaling section. "The proposal lacked scientific backing."
Japan and its allies on Monday shot down the Latin American-led suggestion at the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Panama, reigniting international tensions over Tokyo's whaling programme.
But Numata said the Japanese government had no regrets.
"We consider the defeat was appropriate," he said.
The IWC, which has long been torn by disputes, fell into familiar divisions just hours after officials opened the main session of their week-long annual meeting in Panama City.
Argentina, Brazil, South Africa and Uruguay put forward a proposal to declare the southern Atlantic a no-kill zone for whales, a largely symbolic measure as no whaling currently takes place there.
Thirty-eight countries voted in favour and 21 voted against, with two abstentions. Under the rules of the Commission, proposals need 75 percent support for approval.
In the wake of the vote, objections were raised about the make-up of the "no" camp, with Japanese financial aid seen as the prime motivation for some countries to raise objections to the plan.
"You can't really believe that Nauru or Tuvalu has an interest or has studied the sanctuary. They are voting because Japan tells them to," said Jose Truda Palazzo from Brazil's non-governmental Cetacean Conservation Center.
Truda Palazzo spearheaded the proposal when he was Brazil's representative to the IWC.
But Japan's Numata said Tokyo's allies in the vote had made up their minds on the issues.
"We believe those nations cast votes from the perspective of sustainable use of marine resources."
Each year Japanese whalers kill hundreds of the huge mammals in Antarctic waters that are already considered a sanctuary, infuriating Australia and New Zealand where whale-watching is a lucrative industry.
Japan says it is technically abiding by a 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling as its activities are for research.
The International Whaling Commission allows lethal science on the ocean giants, with the meat then going to consumption.
Norway and Iceland are the only countries that openly defy the commercial whaling moratorium, although their hunts are confined to nearby waters. The two countries also voted against the proposed Atlantic sanctuary.
Japan argues that whaling is part of its culture and accuses Western nations of insensitivity.
Environmentalists -- including the militant US-based Sea Shepherd Conservation Society which routinely attacks Japan's Antarctic expeditions -- say few Japanese eat whale and that the country's position is driven by its powerful fishing industry.