A worldwide ban on commercial whale hunting failed to win approval today at the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting in Brighton.

Only 13 of the commission's 24 member countries supported the indefinite moratorium on commercial whaling, which required a three-fourths majority for approval. It was opposed by Canada, South Africa and seven of the whaling nations on the commission: Japan, the Soviet Union, South Korea, Ireland, Peru, Spain and Chile. Two other whaling nations, Norway and Brazil, abstained.

A similar vote killed a proposal by Sweden to begin a moratorium two years from now and give the whaling nations time to phase out the industry. The coalition of whaling countries led by Japan also is expected later this week to block a proposed ban on the hunting of sperm whales.

The U.S. delegate to the commission, Richard Frank, administrator of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, said he was disappointed with the failure to win approval for the worldwilde whaling moratorium, which the U.S. helped sponsor. "We remain committed to it," he said, "and expect to see it approved some time in the future."

Frank criticized militant conservationists and antiwhaling countries for being "unrealistic and inflexible" in their uncompromising demands for a total ban on whaling. He said it was necessary instead to enter into negotiations with whaling nations to find a way for a moratorium to be phased in to accommodate the economic and employment problems it would cause them.

"We have to attempt to accommodate them," Frank said, "and I believe we can do it in the relatively near future."

Among those speaking out against a worldwild ban on commercial whaling today, Iceland's representative pointed out that his country's economy depends almost entirely on fishing. Japan's delegate said. "I am very concerned with the position of very many countries which did not care to give proper consideration to the plight of the people who are to lose jobs."

"The whaling industry is already on its last legs," argued conservationist Craig Van Note of Monitor, a Washington-based consortium of adntiwhaling environmental groups. The industry has been rapidly run down by the depletion of whale populations, escalating costs and the conservationists' concerted campaign against it, Van Note said, adding that the whaling nations now are "just hanging on for as long as they can."

Conservationists observing the whaling commission meeting have accused U.S. delegate Frank of bargaining with whaling nations over the number of whales they will be allowed to hunt in return for protection of the right of Alaskan Eskimos to hunt bowhead whales. Frank called these allegations untrue and said he had instructions from Washington not to bargain for the bowhead quota.

The United States is seeking to allow the Eskimos to kill 18 bowheads this year, but is ready to agree to a lower quota in the future because of new data that indicates the bowhead herd is declining, according to Frank. The most aggressive antiwhaling nationa on the commission, Australia and the Seychelles, are pressing for ban on bowhead hunting, which Frank called unfair to the Eskimos, who have been hunting bowheads in relatively small numbers for 4,000 years.

Frank said he believes the whaling commission has made considerable progress toward conserving whales by bringing most whaling nations under its jurisdiction, lowering their allowable quotas each year and completely protecting from hunting what remains of the endangered populations of blue, humpback and other large-whale species.

The whaling nations argue there are still plenty of smaller whales in the world's oceans, particularly the minke whale of the Southern Hemisphere. tConservationists argue that whale populations have been overestimated and all of them require immediate, complete protection.