for National Geographic News
For years the fate of the world's whales has swung with the vote count at meetings of the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
Anti-whaling countries, led by Australia and New Zealand, say the marine mammals still number too few to make commercial harvesting sustainable and have so far blocked a resolution led by Japan to end the commission's 1986 whaling moratorium.
And early this March Japanese officials invited representatives from 12 developing countries to Tokyo for a special meeting to obtain "understanding of Japan's position on sustainable whaling."
Some of those nations, such as Cambodia and Palau, are already IWC members. Others, including Eritrea, Congo, Tanzania, Angola, and Micronesia, are not—yet.
Anti-whaling advocates charge that the move is just the latest example in Japan's decade-long campaign to buy the votes it needs to reach the necessary three-quarters majority to overturn the ban.
"It seems to me that there is an implied threat to maintain the same old pattern of recruiting new members to try and overturn the moratorium," said Sir Geoffrey Palmer, New Zealand's whaling commissioner.
"But I have to say that recruitment efforts go on on both sides."
In the past decade Japan has recruited 21 allies at the IWC.
Most are poorer Pacific and West African countries that seem unusually willing to pay the substantial membership fees of between U.S. $8,500 and $17,000 a year, anti-whalers note.
A number of Caribbean states were originally drafted by anti-whaling nations but crossed the floor to vote with Japan, allegedly after discussions about development assistance.
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