The annual meeting of the International Whaling Commission has ended in Panama without moving to involve the United Nations in protecting the endangered mammals.
Conservationists argue the involvement of the UN General Assembly is needed to ensure all whales and related species, such as dolphins, are looked after. But several countries, including Japan, Iceland and Norway, opposed the motion.
The delegates' final act was to decide to hold meetings every two years.
Meanwhile, the Danish and Greenland governments will "reflect" on whaling options for Greenland's Inuit after the IWC denied a bid to raise quotas.
The options include setting quotas unilaterally without the IWC's explicit approval, or even withdrawing from the body. Either would be intensely controversial.
Earlier, New Zealand and Australian ambassadors were instructed to express concern to the South Korean government about its plan to start whaling, ostensibly for scientific purposes.
South Korea's delegation at the IWC meeting in Panama said it wanted to reinstate traditional whaling because minke whales were depleting fish stocks and sight-surveys were not providing enough information on the whales' feeding habits and the fisheries resource.
NZ and Australia against scientific whaling
New Zealand's Foreign Minister Murray McCully says whales in the northwest Pacific are already heavily targeted by Japan and large numbers are also caught as by-catch by South Korea.
Mr McCully says scientific whaling is commercial whaling "in drag" and South Korea's plan would be a serious setback for whale conservation.
Australian Prime Minster Julia Gillard said she was very disappointed by South Korea's announcement.
"There's no excuse for scientific whaling, and I have instructed our ambassador in South Korea to raise this matter today at the highest levels of the Korean government."
The Green Party is also condemning South Korea's plan to start whaling under a loophole in the whaling convention that allows it for scientific purposes.
Greens' co-leader Metiria Turei says the loophole in the international whaling convention needs to be closed.
South Korean delegation leader Joon-Suk Kang said its proposal was not finalised, and that whaling would not begin until plans had been discussed by an international group of expert scientists convened by the IWC, the BBC reports.
New Zealand delegation head Gerard van Bohemen said scientific whaling of a group of minke whales in the region, known as J-stock, borders on the reckless.
Any government is entitled under the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW) to embark unilaterally on a scientific hunting programme, although Japan is the only one that currently does so.