A traditional Eskimo harpoon on Alaska's North Slope
A traditional Eskimo harpoon on Alaska's North Slope - 
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BOB MOON: A working Monday for officials from 75 nations meeting in Anchorage on the fate of commercial whaling. There's been a moratorium for more than two decades, but the International Whaling Commission has been leaning in favor of lifting that ban.

And as Sam Eaton reports from the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, that puts a bright spotlight on this year's meetings.

SAM EATON: Pro-whaling nations don't have enough votes yet to overturn the moratorium on commercial whaling. That would take a three-quarters majority. But the debate is so heated that the International Whaling Commission rarely strays from the subject.

Karen Sack with Greenpeace says this year's meeting isn't any different.

KAREN SACK: It has become a one-issue show where the focus has been on Japan, Iceland and Norway trying to overturn the moratorium and entrench their interests in commercial whaling.

With a full-scale repeal of the whaling ban unlikely, critics say Japan is resorting to back-door tactics. This year, Japan is floating a new proposal to allow subsistence hunting in its coastal communities.

Japan already harvests around a thousand whales a year for scientific research, but then sells the meat. That's driving dozens of anti-whaling protests in cities around the world today.

But traditional Eskimo whalers on Alaska's North Slope say the Commission is failing to address an even bigger threat. For the first time in history, the U.S. is selling the right to drill for oil in the Arctic Ocean. The same waters where Kaktovik whaler Robert Thompson hunts Bowhead.

ROBERT THOMPSON: My concern is, can oil be cleaned up in the Arctic Ocean? And nobody has yet answered that question. They do not have the technology to clean it up.

Thompson says an oil spill in the arctic's icy waters wouldn't only hurt the Bowhead whales that feed there, it would bring an end to an Eskimo tradition that spans thousands of years.

I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

Follow Sam Eaton at @eatonsam