By Richard Black
Environment corrrespondent, BBC News website
The UK is stepping up attempts to secure an anti-whaling majority on the International Whaling Commission (IWC).
The UK government maintains there is no humane way of killing whales
Last year, pro-hunting nations gained their first IWC majority for 20 years.
The British government will publish a brochure this coming week aimed at encouraging nations opposed to whaling to join the Commission.
It says whales are "sensitive, social creatures", with some species risking extinction. Japan says these arguments are "old rhetoric and half-truths".
Japan, Iceland and Norway, the principal pro-whaling nations, believe that many stocks are large enough that hunting can be sustainable.
They dismiss arguments that whales are special and distinct creatures as being relevant only in certain cultures.
The issue was given added urgency by Iceland's decision in October to resume commercial hunting, a move which brought diplomatic protest from Britain and its allies.
The UK's recruitment brochure, which will be officially launched next week, is the most formalised attempt yet mounted by anti-whaling countries to regain the majority which they lost by a single vote at last year's IWC meeting, held in St Kitts.
It says that protecting whales for future generations is a "global responsibility".
Japan believes the western love of whales is culturally specific
"Some whales are particularly at risk of extinction because their populations remain endangered following past exploitation from commercial whaling," it continues.
In two forewords, the distinguished natural history broadcaster David Attenborough writes, "There is no humane way to kill a whale at sea", while Tony Blair makes a direct call to arms.
"We urge your government to join the UK and the other anti-whaling nations in the IWC," writes the British Prime Minister, "to ensure that our generation meets its global responsibility to protect whales."
The arguments contained in the brochure were dismissed by Japan's deputy whaling commissioner Joji Morishita.
"It is always depressing to see the same old anti-whaling rhetoric," he told the BBC News website.
"Its basic position is that commercial whaling automatically means extinction. As we want everlasting whaling, which is totally different from the past industrial whaling of western countries which regarded whales only as an exhaustive industrial material, we would avoid extinction at any cost."
Mr Morishita also warned that the IWC could break up without agreement on the eventual return to regulated commercial hunting.
Art of persuasion
Japan is regularly accused by conservation campaigners of using fisheries aid to buy the votes of smaller countries in the IWC.
In reality, both pro- and anti-whaling blocs have sought to recruit like-minded members in recent years.
At the close of last year's meeting, shocked by their defeat, commissioners from European and South American countries told me they intended to step up these efforts. New European Union members, and those seeking membership, are natural targets.
The plan is clearly bearing fruit. Following representations from anti-whaling countries including the UK, Slovenia joined the IWC last September, and Croatia followed suit two weeks ago.
In theory, their accession overturns the pro-whaling majority
But IWC votes are unpredictable, and the British government's recruitment brochure indicates its intention of securing forces which can reliably out-vote Japan, Norway, Iceland and their allies.