Illustration: Matt Golding.

Illustration: Matt Golding.

Experts and animal rights activists are confident Japan will stop whaling should an international court rule the nation's ''scientific'' whale hunt is illegal.

Australia has challenged Japan in the International Court of Justice, arguing its claims of scientific research are a cover for commercial whaling.

A judgment will be handed down on Monday - the timing potentially awkward for Prime Minister Tony Abbott as he prepares for an official trip to Tokyo in the coming week with hopes of finalising a free trade deal.

But a leading international law specialist said Japan was eager to be seen as complying with international law in general as it also sought to defend an increasingly bitter territorial spat with China. ''I find it inconceivable that Japan would not accept the decision of the court, given its post World War II respect for international law,'' said Professor Donald Rothwell of the Australian National University.

Professor Rothwell said he expected Japan to respond to the whaling case with a ''straight bat'' as it also seeks support in international conventions on the disputed Senkaku Islands - claimed by China as the Diaoyu Islands.

But it is far from clear that the court will find in Australia's favour.

''There is not a whiff of a hint of a direction from the court itself,'' said Patrick Ramage of the International Fund for Animal Welfare.

Former prime minister Kevin Rudd launched the case against Japan in 2010 following a campaign by animal rights groups.

Foreign affairs officials had opposed legal action at the time, fearing a loss in court would in effect legitimise Japan's whaling program.

A Galaxy poll released on Thursday and commissioned by the IFAW asking ''Are you in favour or opposed to whaling?'' showed an overwhelming 92 per cent against.

Japan has argued that the international court does not have jurisdiction to hear the case, but also claimed a global moratorium on whaling signed in the 1980s did allow whales to be hunted for scientific research.

The Japanese government declined to comment ahead of the court's finding.

Mick McIntyre from the group Whales Alive attended the court hearings in The Hague last year and said he believed Japan would abide by the decision.

''But I hesitate because I don't think [the case] is going to be a silver bullet to stop whaling.''

Anti-whaling activists are concerned the court may hand down a middle-ground decision, with both Australia and Japan able to claim victory.

The case turns on an interpretation of the global convention to regulate whaling that allows governments to ''grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorising that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research''. Australia argued in the case that Japan had produced no scientific research of merit over the past two decades after killing thousands of whales.

Officials insist the opposition to Japan's whaling be quarantined from the wider relationship with Japan, Australia's second largest trading partner.

Trade Minister Andrew Robb last month said the Coalition was just as concerned about whaling as Labor, but its priority was the economy and creating jobs.

Greens senator Peter Whish-Wilson urged the government to send a special envoy on whaling to continue talks with Japan.