Six eastern Caribbean countries may well hold the key as to whether or not the 1986 global ban on commercial whaling is overturned, thereby opening up the Southern Ocean Whale Sanctuary around Antarctica to hunting.
The proposal will be put forward this week at the June 21-25 International Whaling Commission (IWC) meeting in Morocco.
Regional environmentalists and others opposed to the lifting of the ban are again lobbying Caribbean governments not to give in to countries like Japan that have used their financial muscle in the past to get regional countries to side with them.
Antigua and Barbuda, Dominica, St Kitts and Nevis, St Lucia, St Vincent and the Grenadines and Grenada - all members of the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States (OECS) - belong to the IWC, which was set up in 1964 to provide for the proper conservation of whale stocks and the orderly development of the whaling industry.
Grenada's Prime Minister Tillman Thomas said it is important for the sub-region to adopt a united approach in dealing with the issue.
"It goes both ways. Most of us are tourism destinations and we benefit equally from tourism, so it's a matter of getting together and looking at the issue," Thomas said.
"We want to talk about sustainable whaling and different approaches towards that."
But former Commonwealth Secretary General, Sir Shridath Ramphal, has described as a travesty, the decision by the OECS to lend support to Japan.
"It's a great sadness to me that some of our smaller countries - a significant number to make a difference in the world's Whaling Commission - are in fact joining with them in perpetuating the slaughter, and in the end the extinction of these mammals," he told delegates attending an international environmental con-ference last month in Grenada
"The Japanese make no bones about it; they are using 'cheque- book' diplomacy. They are buying our votes and we fool ourselves that we are part of the tradition of whaling ... . What we are doing is making ourselves part of their extinction," Sir Shridath said at the conference organised by the Eastern Caribbean Coalition for Environmental Awareness, the Grenada Fund for Conservation, the Kido Foundation and the Pew Environ-ment Group.
Between 1986 and 1995, Grenada received more than US$15 million in grant aid from Japan and, this year, the government expects US$5 million in assistance for the development of a coastal fisheries project in the west coast fishing town of Gouyave.
The situation is similar in other OECS countries where Japanese funds have financed various fisheries-related projects.
Former Caribbean diplomat, Sir Ronald Sanders, who wants the hunting ban to stay in place, said whales are worth more to the region alive than dead.
"A dead whale is no good to the Caribbean. We need live whales ... because we've got a burgeoning whale-watching industry, particularly in the Eastern Caribbean countries that is an essential and growing part of their tourism product."
Environmentalist Dr Fitzroy Armour, who pioneered whale watching in the Eastern Caribbean, said he is worried at the negative impact a reversal of the global ban could have on the Caribbean tourism industry.
The proposal also calls for continuing whaling by Iceland and Norway in violation of long-agreed scientific procedures and the global whaling ban.
Armour recalls that a few decades ago, Grenada approved a whale-hunting permit to Norway to hunt sperm whales in its waters and in one season, all the whales were wiped out "and this was withprimitive equipment, what you think will happen when today's whaling ships are equipped with sophisticated equipment.
"To date, the sperm whale is yet to make a rebound and is presently on the endangered species list," he said, warning that "killing the ocean whales will not only destroy them, but will add insult to the ongoing oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which is an important ground for the North Atlantic fishes".
He said Japan has shipping fleets in the Caribbean and will be able to "totally destroy the whale-watching industry ... if a permit is granted by one nation".
Last year, Dominica took the unprecedented step of abstaining.
Prime Minister Roosevelt Skerrit said that his administration would continue to support the sustainable use of marine resources and would not participate in a vote to support commercial whaling.
"I have made it clear that our position remains ... . We will continue to abstain," Skerrit said.
Reports of bribery
Prime Minister Thomas has ordered an investigation into allegations that Grenada has been accepting bribes from Japan in return for supporting the Asian country's bid to overturn a global ban on whaling.
A British newspaper last weekend claimed that some developing countries, including those in the Caribbean, had been receiving bribes in exchange for votes.
"From the moment government became aware of it, the prime minister ordered an investigation, and the based on all accounts thus far, we maintain that this is a smear campaign," said Gerry Hopkin, an aide to Prime Minister Thomas.
"Grenada's vote at the IWC is not for sale, and it will never be under a Tillman Thomas administration."
Fisheries Minister Denis Lett, who admitted meeting with the "undercover reporters" for The Sunday Times has denied that Grenada admitted to being bribed by Japan for its vote.
The British publication listed Grenada and St Kitts and Nevis as countries willing to consider selling their votes in exchange for a 10-year financial package from a Swiss billionaire, whom the reporters claimed they represented.
But St Kitts and Nevis marine resources minister, Dr Timothy Harris, insists his country remains firm in its policy of support for sustainable whaling, adding that "there are people who will attempt to do all kinds of manipulation to that particular position on that which was science-based and that we were committed, basically, to follow the science in relation to that".
A study by an Australia-based firm, Economists at Large & Associates, said whale-watching had become a US$2.1 billion global industry in 2008.
In the Caribbean and Central America whale-watching is growing at a significant rate, to the point that countries in the region now earn more than US$54 million from it as part of their tourism product.
Marine biologist Lyne Morrisette of the Marine Science Institute of Canada said a three-year research project which simulated the removal of whales from the Caribbean's eco-system, did not result in an increase in the region's fish stock.
She told reporters that the research showed that the waters of the Caribbean were a place for whales to breed and spawn and not for feeding.
"Whales feed in cold waters of the North Atlantic, in the St Lawrence, the Bay of Fundy or Europe," Morrisette said.
They come to the Caribbean "to breed and to have their babies. During that time, they are nursing and they don't feed at all," she added.