Joji Morishita has one of the more unenviable jobs on the global conference circuit: explaining why Japan wants to kill a thousand of the world's most-beloved mammals every year. At the acrimonious annual meetings of the International Whaling Commission, Mr Morishita spends hours trying to convince western reporters that Japan is not the Darth Vader of the marine world. 'It is not true that we want free, uncontrolled whaling,' Japan's alternate IWC commissioner said in flawless English at this year's conference in Anchorage, Alaska. 'We would like to have managed, controlled whaling, with quotas and enforcement.' The task of selling the controversial whaling programme, which sends a fleet to the Antarctic every year to hunt whales in the name of science, is about to become even more difficult. Japan plans to add a cull of 50 humpbacks, on top of its quota of minke, sei, Bryde's, sperm and fin whales. That hunt, due to start later this year, has enraged conservationists, particularly Australia and New Zealand, which call it 'deeply provocative'. 'This is a development that will really adversely affect the image of Japan in our countries,' New Zealand Environment Minister Chris Carter warned this week. The unflappable Mr Morishita, however, takes it all in his stride, flatly denying conservationist claims that the humpback is among the planet's more imperiled animals. 'We don't see it as endangered.' Japan's stubborn refusal to join the growing global consensus on whales puzzles many, not least because the domestic whaling industry is on life support, kept alive by a steady infusion of government cash. Even before the 1986 moratorium that ended worldwide commercial whaling, whale meat's popularity was plummeting. Last year, the country's whale-meat inventory reached a record 6,000 tonnes, forcing wholesalers to sell it at knocked-down prices to schools. But although demand is low and the once-huge whaling industry has shrunk, political support for the drive to overturn the whaling ban is strong in Japan. The campaign is backed by the 100-strong Parliamentary Whaling League. 'We have no intention of hunting whales to extinction,' says leading member and Liberal Democratic Party lawmaker Yasukazu Hamada. 'We have some of the best marine scientists in the world and they tell us that whale stocks are recovering.' Mr Hamada says the anti-whaling campaign is driven by 'cultural imperialism'. 'They eat dogs in China and Korea, lambs in Europe and the US. Why shouldn't we eat whales?' The most active members of the league are nationalists who come from traditional whaling districts such as Wakayama and Chiba prefectures. But the real core of the campaign is conservative bureaucrats in the Fisheries Agency who write marine policy, and represent Japan at the IWC and other international forums. The agency has funnelled an estimated US$750 million into fisheries aid to poor African and Caribbean nations in an attempt to win a majority of pro-whaling votes at the IWC. At home, the agency has positioned itself as the embattled defender of Japan's rights to an equitable share of marine resources. Deputy director-general Akira Nakamae, who was in Alaska this week, says Japan's plummeting food self-sufficiency - down to 40 per cent from 73 per cent in 1965 - means it has to fight its corner harder than ever. 'What right does New Zealand have to tell us how to use the global sea commons?' he fumes. 'The reason that New Zealand, Australia and Britain are involved is just egotism. It is quite simple: The countries that are not involved should stay out of the problem. In the high seas, we divide up all resources, so why not whales?' Whaling is the rhetorical line in the sand, beyond which lies that beloved staple of the Japanese dinner table: tuna. Adding to their siege mentality, fisheries bureaucrats also believe they face a growing war for dwindling resources with China. 'If we lose on whales, what will happen next?' asks Mr Nakamae. 'It is not just us taking the fish. We take 6 million tonnes of fish a year, which is about 5 per cent of the total global catch of 120 million tonnes. China alone takes 40 million tonnes, approaching half the total. In the past decade, the amount of fish China takes has exploded.' Mr Morishita, who is employed by the Fisheries Agency and reports regularly to the whaling league, is the public face of this political and bureaucratic world. Mr Morishita's charges that the western nations are hypocritical play well on the TV screens back home. 'Why is aboriginal whaling allowed in the US, but not in Japan,' he asked this week, a reference to the award of a quota of about 50 fin whales to Alaskan coastal communities. Critics say the key difference is that Japan wants to sell its whale-meat commercially while aboriginal communities in America, Greenland, Russia and elsewhere cull the animals to survive. The distinction is easily understood elsewhere. But in a country where Mr Morishita is something of a popular hero and the media selectively reports the whaling controversy, many people buy his claim that the west doesn't know its sei from its Shinola.