Some environmentalists are arguing that whales and dolphins are so intelligent, social and self-aware that they deserve a special status, of non-human individuals with basic human rights.
Some cultures are still dedicated to hunting whales, and environmental activists who believe in the human rights doctrine regarding Cetaceans sometimes confront whalers at sea. Wikileaks cables released by the Guardian show that US officials considered the notion of moving against the anti-whaling activists via tax policy, on behalf of the Japanese government, as part of a compromise whereby Japan would reduce its whaling. The US plan fell through when the UK opposed it in the EU.
Although we all admire social activists such as Mohandas K. Gandhi and the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., one has to remember that what they did was defined as illegal by the governments of their time. Their activism redefined the legal. I am afraid that the US National Security State, with its enormous power, wealth and technological sophistication, may be gradually making social activism harder and harder, with all the totalitarian implications of that change. Despite their aggressive tactics, the anti-whaling activists have not been even charged with doing anything illegal, so why would the USG intervene against them? And what if their attempt to redefine the legal is beneficial to humankind (see below)? There is a strong argument that “research” exemptions from the anti-whaling convention are bogus.
Another point: This cultural dispute over the definition of protected life is likely to expand with globalization. Won’t India eventually use its new clout, if Hindu parties come back to power, to fight the beef industry and promote vegetarianism?
There is another consideration which may ultimately over-ride the cultural ones. It is certainly the case that whaling and beef eating are high-carbon activities that contribute to global warming, and the earth may not be able to afford them for much longer.