The 88 nations of the International Whaling Commission held two days of intense closed-door talks on a proposal to ease the 25-year-old ban on commercial whaling in exchange for smaller kills by the three countries that claim exemptions to the moratorium on hunting for profit.
About 1,500 animals are killed each year by Japan, Norway and Iceland. Japan, which kills the majority of whales, insists its hunt is for scientific research — but more whale meat and whale products end up in Japanese restaurants than in laboratories.
A key sticking point appeared to be that the agency declared a whaling sanctuary in 1994 in the Southern Ocean south of Australia, but Japanese ships hunt freely there because the agency has no enforcement powers.
Australia has already launched a complaint against Japanese whaling at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, the U.N.'s highest court.
Acting IWC chairman Anthony Liverpool said in an open meeting Wednesday that "fundamental positions remained very much apart."