By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, St Kitts
The International Whaling Commission's annual meeting has ended with talk of compromise, despite a key victory for pro-whaling nations.
With camps so divided, finding a middle way will not prove easy
Japan says some anti-whaling nations are softening their stance.
And the anti-whaling US is talking of working with whaling nations to make the practice more sustainable.
But environmental groups are firmly against any compromise and are urging anti-whaling countries to stand firm against a return to commercial hunting.
Some are planning new campaigns to increase public awareness.
Harking back to the "save the whales" campaigns of the past which ushered in the current global ban on commercial hunting, the new mantra appears to be "save the whales - again".
There is general disappointment in the environmental community that this meeting has seen anti-whaling countries on the defensive.
"Regardless of the rhetoric and posturing, very little has been achieved for either whales or people this week," said Sue Lieberman, director of the global species programme at WWF.
Environmentalists are urging anti-whaling nations to stand firm
"Nearly 2,000 whales have been killed by Japan, Norway and Iceland since last year's meeting - where is conservation?"
Mike Townsley of Greenpeace, who found himself arrested along with nine other activists while attempting to hold a demonstration on the beach outside the IWC conference hotel, added: "We've got to remember that although nothing really bad happened, nothing good happened either.
"This year in December, the Southern Ocean sanctuary will be breached again by the Japanese so-called scientific whaling fleet."
Despite comments by Japan that it will seek to find ways of protecting its ships against Greenpeace's operations, the environmental group says it will be back in the Southern Ocean next season.
Although environmental groups remain almost entirely united against a return to commercial whaling, there were signs emerging that some nations are prepared to work together towards a compromise.
"I think we are sensing a slight change of attitude among [anti-whaling] member countries of the IWC," said Joji Morishita, deputy whaling commissioner for Japan.
Japan's negotiator says there is willingness to discuss compromise
The country gained an important symbolic victory on Sunday with the adoption by just one vote of the St Kitts Declaration, a resolution endorsing an eventual return to commercial whaling.
"Because the sustainable-use side had the St Kitts Declaration adopted, there is more willingness to talk about the compromise or middle ground," Mr Morishita told the BBC News website. "I would definitely like to encourage that willingness for next year's meeting in Anchorage."
If Japan is willing to talk, so is the United States.
Its whaling commissioner William Hogarth said that although the US remained opposed to commercial whaling, it is prepared to work with pro-whaling nations to ensure that if the ban is eventually lifted, hunting would be conducted along sustainable lines.
The current situation, he indicated, could not be allowed to endure.
"The bottom line is that the number of whales taken is increasing; it increased by 1,000 between 2005 and 2006," he told reporters.
"And so the goal should be to put a process in place that will protect the whales and make sure that any removal will not impede their recovery or cause a return to the position they were in [before the ban]."
Business as usual
What appears certain is that the three countries which currently catch whales will continue for the foreseeable future, unmoved by the protestations of environmental groups.
Norway lodged an objection against the moratorium at its inception, and is allowed to catch minke whales commercially.
"Norway's intention is to continue to develop commercial whaling," commented Rune Frovik, secretary of the High North Alliance, which promotes the interests of whalers and fishermen in the north of Norway.
"It will probably increase the quota in the coming years, and perhaps other species will be added," he told the BBC News website.
"But that depends on the scientific work that's done and also on the market conditions - we need access to the Japanese market, and that's what we think is paramount."
Japan and Iceland hunt under an article in the whaling convention allowing catches for scientific research.
Indigenous groups, principally around the Arctic, take smaller numbers for local consumption.
Quotas for these indigenous groups are due for review at next year's IWC meeting in Anchorage, when the US will take its turn to chair the Commission.
By then the anti-whaling bloc will probably be stronger, boosted by the extra number of countries which European delegates hope to bring onto the IWC now that the whalers have had their victory.