By Richard Black
Environment correspondent, BBC News website, Santiago
Greenland's Inuit are allowed to hunt because of "nutritional and cultural need"
The first vote at this year's International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting has resulted in defeat for Greenland's request to expand its hunt.
Many countries were unconvinced that Greenlanders need the extra meat that catching 10 humpbacks would provide, and believe the hunt is too commercial.
A Greenland delegate said the decision would deprive its indigenous Inuit communities of much needed whale meat.
The EU's decision to vote as a bloc on the issue drew harsh criticism.
"I deeply regret that the IWC was not able to fulfil its obligations when all its requirements were met by Greenland," said Amalie Jessen from Greenland's fisheries ministry.
"I feel those opposing our proposal just wanted to find new excuses not to award humpbacks; and I anticipate that when we bring the proposal back in a year's time, they will have prepared other excuses."
Aboriginal or subsistence whaling is designed to allow indigenous communities with a documented nutritional and cultural need for whale meat to hunt, under quotas approved by IWC scientists.
Many delegations were not convinced that Greenland - or Denmark, which speaks for its Arctic territory within the IWC - had made the case that its people needed more whale meat.
ANNUAL ABORIGINAL SUBSISTENCE QUOTAS 2008-12
Alaska/Chukotka: 56 bowheads
Chukotka: 124 grays
Greenland: 212 minkes, 19 fins, 2 bowheads
Makah (Washington state, US): 5 grays
Bequia (St Vincent and the Grenadines): 4 humpbacks
And a report issued last week by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) report raised questions over whether the hunt was too commercial.
Investigators found that about 25% of the meat was sold commercially, often through supermarkets.
"There's general acceptance that a limited amount of trade and sale in aboriginal hunts is acceptable," WSPA's marine mammals programme manager Claire Bass told BBC News.
"But really it's the volume and scale of trade in Greenlandic hunts that is simply not appropriate, and also the profit that's being made by third parties such as supermarkets and a private company that's processing the whales."
The IWC's scientific committee had concluded that taking 10 humpbacks each year would be sustainable. And a number of countries used this judgement to weigh in with some harsh words on Greenland's side.
"Am I to understand that in the spirit of saving money, the EU is proposing that we liquidate the (IWC) scientific committee?" asked Russia's IWC commissioner Valentin Ilyashenko.
"A bloc has been created, all scientific arguments are useless... and the interests of countries here are divided by political motives."
Russia is home to the largest aboriginal hunt in the world, in Chukotka, and would be keen to pre-empt anything that might curtail that operation.
The US also voted on Greenland's side. Safeguarding the hunt of its Alaskan Inuit is a key domestic priority.
Greenland's claim to be acting solely on the basis of science and need was somewhat undermined by its offer to forego some of its annual fin whale quota if the humpback proposal went through.
For the first time at IWC meetings, the EU had decided to formulate an agreed position and vote on it en bloc, as it does in other environmental treaty organisations.
On this occasion Denmark was excused, as it speaks for Greenland.
South Korea described the EU bloc vote as "interference with the legitimate process of this organisation and the due process of law".
A number of Caribbean speakers picked up the theme.
"We are seeing a group of countries, knowing perfectly well that they have the numbers to create confusion in our commission, is attempting to deny the human rights of a group of indigenous people," said Daven Joseph, a member of the St Kitts and Nevis delegation.
"At a time when the world is witnessing food shortages, we are seeing a small group of countries that are purporting to be world leaders depriving marginal peoples of the right to eat."
Japan too declared its support for the Greenland bid.
But environmental NGOs accused Japan and its Caribbean allies of hypocrisy, referring back to their blocking of quotas for subsistence whaling at the 2002 IWC meeting in Shimonoseki.
"Japan's intervention, saying how unfair and sad it was that the EU and others would not support a humpback quota for Greenland, can only be viewed as either a complete loss of memory or they are so cynical as to not remember their own actions in Shimonoseki," said Patricia Forkan, president of Humane Society International.
For seasoned IWC observers, the debate marked a return to the bitter tones of the past, after three days when the new spirit of conciliation has kept a lid on the fundamental divisions that endure.
Delegates had decided not to have any votes unless absolutely necessary, and this was the first time consensus could not be reached.
But the spat is not likely to affect the biggest material issue facing the commission - whether a compromise deal can be found between hunting and anti-hunting nations - though it does demonstrate that the inflammable nature of the whaling issue is very far from being dowsed.