On Sunday, the documentary film The Cove, which exposes dolphin hunting in Japan, won an Oscar. On Tuesday, the film's production team attracted front-page coverage in the New York Times with a cleverly timed sting that exposed whale sushi being served not in Japan, as you might expect, but in Santa Monica.
Almost two decades ago in Japan, I was once taken to dinner at a restaurant that specialized in whale meat by a charming pair of soft-spoken young sisters who had grown up in a Buddhist temple as the daughters of a priest. As I recall, the ladies were under the impression that some strains of Buddhism hold that if you're going to eat an animal, it's morally preferable to kill one really large animal rather than many smaller ones. By their reasoning, eating whale—at least, a species that isn't endangered—is more ethical than eating beef.
The Buddhist ladies and I sampled whale sashimi, among other offerings. It was a long time ago, but although the whale meat tasted a bit like beef, my primary recollection is that it simply didn't have a whole lot of flavor. Afterwards, I found myself craving something a bit tastier—say, a clam.
It's challenging to find the everyday beliefs of your own culture clashing with the practices of another country. As for me, I think the issue of harvesting non-endangered whales, as Japan does (along with Norway and a few others), ought to begin with the same moral concerns I would bring to lobsters and everything else: how sentient is the creature, and how much did it suffer during the process?