A new attempt to create a huge whale sanctuary across the southern Atlantic Ocean has been voted down at a meeting of the International Whaling Commission (IWC) on Tuesday (25 October). Argentina, Brazil, Gabon, South Africa and Uruguay have been trying to get the sanctuary established since 2001.

The proposal would have needed 75% of delegates' support to go forward but only 38 of the 64 nations voted yes. It had been opposed by whaling nations such as Japan, Norway and Iceland, with the support of some Asian and African nations.

The proposed sanctuary would reach from the east coasts of Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina to west Africa and border the Southern Ocean Sanctuary, a 50 million km sq area around Antarctica where all commercial whaling is banned. The Southern Atlantic Sanctuary would see 20 million km sq more covered by the ban.

All whaling, apart from that practised by aboriginal communities, is currently under moratorium while whale numbers recover from the overfishing that decimated populations of the 20th century.

Animal rights campaigners have expressed disappointment at the vote, with Kitty Block, vice president of Humane Society International, saying that it was "defeated by those nations with a vested interest in killing whales for profit".

Block said: "With the clear need to create a safe haven sanctuary for whales under threat not merely from the potential resumption of whaling, but from death from entanglement in fishing gear, marine pollution, and injury from ship strikes, whose populations are still struggling to recover following decades of merciless commercial whaling in the twentieth century, it is a tragedy that Japan and its allies yet again blocked this proposal."

The countries putting forward the proposal all have whale-watching industries. The IWC is currently meeting in Portoroz, Slovenia.