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World News

FACTBOX: Five facts about International Whaling Commission

ANCHORAGE, Alaska (Reuters) - The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission, the only international forum devoted to whales, began on Monday in Anchorage.

Meetings of the organization have grown increasingly contentious as divisions between whaling and non-whaling countries deepen. Japan, the most vocal of the pro-whaling nations, has repeatedly threatened to pull out.

Following are five facts about the commission:

* It was founded in 1946 to regulate and protect the giant mammals, which had been hunted to the edge of extinction, but the rise of environmentalism gradually made it more of protectionist. In 1986, a blanket moratorium on commercial whaling took effect.

* Membership has gradually increased and now stands at 76 nations. Both sides accuse the other of recruiting members to its side. Critics point to the inclusion of land-locked pro-whaling nations like Mali and Magnolia as signs Japan uses its foreign aid to buy votes, which Japan denies. Whaling nations say the inclusion of land-locked, anti-whaling countries like Austria is just as inappropriate. Recent additions include Greece, Slovenia, Cyprus, Croatia and Ecuador.

* Significant measures, such as lifting the 1986 moratorium on commercial whaling, require a 75 percent majority vote, making it easy for both sides to block plans they oppose.

* Three commission member-nations hunt whales in significant numbers. Japan conducts what it calls scientific whaling. Norway and Iceland openly defy the international ban. The whaling nations say stocks of some species are no longer endangered and do not need protection. In addition, an exemption allows indigenous communities in places like Greenland and Alaska to hunt whales. More than 25,000 whales have been killed since 1986.

* For the first time in two decades, Japan and its pro-whaling allies managed to score a simple majority at the 2006 annual commission meeting. The group said a global ban on commercial whaling was no longer necessary, but it was mostly a moral victory for the pro-whaling nations since they did not have enough votes to threaten the moratorium.

Reporting by Daisuke Wakabayashi and Yereth Rosen

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