Nations discussing a plan to allow the first legal commercial whaling in almost 25 years, in an attempt to curb the number of whales hunted by a handful of countries, have failed to reach agreement.
The attempt by the International Whaling Commission (IWC) to break an impasse between pro and anti-whaling countries was being discussed behind closed doors in Morocco this week.
Under the 10-year "peace plan" drawn up by the IWC, the global moratorium on commercial whaling would continue, but limited catches would be allowed for those countries which continue to hunt the mammals despite the ban.
The plan would see Iceland and Norway, which hunt commercially, and Japan, which exploits a loophole allowing it to catch whales under an exemption for "scientific" whaling, agree to catch limits set by the commission and based on scientific advice.
According to the IWC, the proposals would mean several thousand fewer whales would be caught than if the current situation continued, with "strict enforceable limits" on whaling for the first time since the moratorium was introduced.
But conservation groups have been split on whether a version of the plan could improve the situation for whales or threaten them further.
Today, as the IWC's acting chairman Anthony Liverpool said "fundamental positions remained very much apart" and the US delegation said talks had reached an impasse, some conservationists welcomed the failure of the proposals.
Patrick Ramage, director of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (Ifaw) global whale campaign, said that had a deal been done in Morocco it would have "lived in infamy".
He said the three-year effort to break the stalemate between whaling nations and those that oppose the hunting of the mammals had been conducted behind closed doors and did not stand up to public scrutiny.
And Robbie Marsland, Ifaw's UK director, said: "Ifaw opposes whaling because it is cruel and unnecessary.
"Now that this deal has failed we look forward to seeing the IWC return to the conservation of whales.
"We all still need to keep working to preserve the ban on commercial whaling and protect whales for the future."
But Dr Susan Lieberman, director of international policy for the Pew Environment Group, said it was deeply disappointing that governments could not come to a solution.
She accused the Japanese of a "lack of sufficient flexibility" to phase out whaling in the Southern Ocean whale sanctuary, which she said prevented agreement from being reached.
The Pew Environment Group, along with Greenpeace and WWF, had said said the IWC proposals could work if there were changes to ensure there was no whaling in the Southern Ocean, where Japan currently sends fleets into the whale sanctuary, and no threatened species or populations were hunted.
Dr Lieberman said: "Continuation of the impasse here may retain the whaling moratorium on paper, but unregulated whaling outside of IWC control, by Japan, Norway and Iceland, will now be able to continue."
She called on Japan, which is hosting a major international conference on biodiversity in October, to reverse its course and show leadership in marine biodiversity conservation, for whales and other species such as Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Richard Benyon UK Minister for the Marine Environment said: “It is hugely disappointing that the world could not come together to give greater protection to these magnificent creatures. We in the UK have been consistently clear that any new agreement must reduce the numbers of whales that are killed each year with the aim of a complete phase-out of all commercial whaling. We could not support an agreement that did not have conservation at its heart.”