In the years after World War II, whale meat became an important part of the Japanese diet, and was the country's primary source of protein, particularly in school lunches. Today, the amount of whale meat consumed in Japan is a fraction of what it was during its heyday, and according to a new public opinion poll, most Japanese don't particularly miss it.

The poll, conducted by the Nippon Research Center on behalf of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW), found that, of 1,200 respondents surveyed nationwide, nearly 90 percent said they had not bought whale meat in the last year. Five percent had done so once, and only 2 percent had done so more than twice.

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While 27 percent expressed some degree of support for the country's whaling industry, a surprisingly low 11 percent said their support was "strong", while 18 percent of respondents expressed opposition. Strong support for

whaling was lowest, 2.6 percent, among respondents aged between 15 and 19; it was highest, at 18.6 percent, among those aged between 60 and 69.

The majority – 55 percent – said they were neither for whaling nor against it, a collective shoulder shrug that appears to belie the insistence by the country's officials that continued whaling is a matter of great national pride and import.

“As this new,

nationwide survey clearly shows, Japan Fisheries Agency bureaucrats’ claims of

public support for whaling are as wrong and outdated as the practice they seek

to defend," claimed IFAW's Patrick Ramage.

One area where opposition was united was against the use of taxpayer subsidies to support the industry. A full 87 percent were against government funding of Japan's "scientific whaling" program, and 85 percent opposed taxpayer money being spent on building a new factory ship. This comes two months after the Fisheries Agency of Japan announced its intention to seek funding to refurbish the Nisshin Maru, the world's only remaining whaling factory ship, to equip it for another 10 years of operation.

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Meanwhile, New Zealand has announced it is joining Australia in fighting Japan's Antarctic whaling in the International Court of Justice. Australia filed a complaint against Japan at the ICJ in 2010, arguing that Japan was violating the International Convention for the Regulation of Whaling by claiming to kill whales for research purposes. A decision is expected in 2013 or later.

IMAGE: Greenpeace inflatable hooks on to a Japanese whaling boat while it is pulling a caught whale on board. (Corbis)