By Richard Black
BBC environment correspondent, Ulsan, South Korea
Despite the fears of conservationists, anti-whaling nations carried the first day of this year's International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting.
The meeting is marked by sharp division
Three out of four developing nations which joined the commission just before the meeting and were expected to side with pro-whaling Japan failed to vote.
And one of the critical measures was passed by just a single vote.
Conservationists saw no cause for celebration; Japan says it expects to make progress in the next four days.
A resumption of commercial whaling after a 19-year moratorium is unlikely; but Japan had pledged to curtail a number of important conservation programmes if it achieved a majority.
In the first session of the meeting, Japan flexed its muscles by calling a vote on proposals to create new whale sanctuaries in the southern Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
Japan effectively said these proposals were out of order, because the reasoning behind them was not based on science.
Japan lost that motion; it also lost a further motion on the agenda as a whole, this one by a single vote.
Winning that could have meant that some IWC activities which Japan does not approve of, such as monitoring killing methods, could have been taken off the meeting agenda.
In the afternoon came a further setback, as Japan lost a proposal to make IWC ballots secret.
"Even though we lost those three votes, we have the feeling that the gap between anti-whaling countries and pro-sustainable use countries is narrowing," Joji Morishita, one of Japan's alternate (or deputy) commissioners, told BBC News.
"We have just one day finished, and four days to come; and we might be able to make more effective interventions at the meeting."
Not surprisingly, conservation groups - and their allies in anti-whaling delegations - were better pleased with the day.
"We're relieved but concerned," Dr Susan Lieberman, director of the species programme for the environmental group WWF, told BBC News.
"Some countries appear not to have turned up, which has swung the vote, so it's no cause for celebration."
In theory, the commission makes its decisions on the basis of science.
In practice, however, the side which runs the more successful "recruitment campaign" carries the vote.
In recent years, Japan has encouraged a number of developing nations, notably in Africa and the Caribbean, to join the pro-whaling camp - critics allege Japan liberally sprinkles these nations with foreign aid, though the Japanese government firmly denies the link.
Meanwhile the most active anti-whaling countries - Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom - admit they persuade like-minded countries, usually from Europe, to join.
Many of the newer members have no history in whaling - indeed, some are landlocked countries, such as Austria, Luxembourg, Mali and Mongolia.
"That's just one of the absurdities about the way the IWC works," said Susan Lieberman.
"In practice, it's become polarised - it's whether you're for or against Japan - that's the way it's evolved.
"Having said that, I'm delighted to see countries like Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia - all new democracies - joining and reflecting the views of their citizens."
The voting balance could change at any time during the meeting; if delegates from Togo, Gambia and Nauru all pay their dues, Japan could yet command a majority on future votes.
As one delegate was overheard to say, "you wouldn't run a p**s-up in a brewery this way."