guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 23 June 2010 17.58 BST
Thousands of whales will continue to be killed each year after international negotiations to redraw whaling rules collapsed following two days of secret talks.
However, anti-whaling groups hailed the collapse as a success, as it means the ban on whaling – introduced 24 years ago but ignored by some nations – remains.
A compromise agreement failed to be reached at the meeting of the 88 member countries of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) in Agadir, Morocco.
The acting IWC chairman, Anthony Liverpool, said that "fundamental positions remained very much apart", while the chief US delegate, Monica Medina, said: "After nearly three years of discussions, it appears we are at an impasse."
Pro-whaling countries Norway and Iceland – with backing from the US, New Zealand and some green groups – had proposed lifting a ban on commercial whaling in return for cutting the number of whales killed by using quotas that would reduce over a 10-year period. But Britain, Australia and Latin American countries opposed ending the moratorium.
The failure to reach a consensus means discussions will be suspended for a year. It also calls into question the IWC's future, with the background documents to the talks (PDF) saying: "The status quo is not an option for an effective multilateral organisation."
But the current situation, in which Norway and Iceland hunt whales despite the IWC ban and Japan uses a "scientific whaling" loophole to hunt 1,000 mostly minke whales, will now continue.
Wendy Elliott at WWF, expressed disappointed at the outcome of the talks.
"Governments failed to find a way forward," she said. "Once again, they have put politics before science. This brings into question the integrity of the commission and its ability to make meaningful decisions that benefit whale conservation
On Monday the WWF – along with Greenpeace and the Pew Environment Group – issued a statement backing a lifting of the ban under certain conditions.
The Japanese whaling commissioner, Yasue Funayama, said Japan had offered major concessions to reach a compromise and blamed anti-whaling nations' refusal to accept the killing of a single animal.
"We must rise above politics and engage in a broader perspective," she said. The head of the New Zealand delegation, Geoffrey Palmer, blamed an "absence of political will".
Richard Benyon, Britain's 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."
Chris Butler-Stroud, of the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, hailed the breakdown in the talks, adding: "We must not forget that Japan, Iceland and Norway continue to whale outside of the sanction of the IWC, and that is a situation that has to change."
Normally held in public, the IWC meeting drew criticism for going into secret session. It also took place in the shadow of corruption claims, with media allegations suggesting Japan had bought countries' pro-whaling votes by paying for flights and IWC membership fees, a charge that was denied.