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Declare ‘Human’ Rights For Dolphins and Whales, Scientists Urge

Declare ‘Human’ Rights For Dolphins and Whales, Scientists Urge

A session this week at the world’s largest annual science conference presented the case for considering whales and dolphins as non-human persons, with basic rights to life, liberty and well-being. The session at the American Associaton for the Advancement of Science considered the ethical and policy implications of recent advances in scientific understanding of the intelligence and behavior of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) and urged support for the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans, originally proposed in 2010.

Proponents of the Declaration point to the advanced intelligence of cetaceans. The session description reads: “A variety of scientific studies have found that whales and dolphins are capable of advanced cognitive abilities (such as problem-solving, artificial “language” comprehension, and complex social behavior), indicating that these cetaceans are far more intellectually and emotionally sophisticated than previously thought.” The participants presented multiple examples of cetaceans acting with empathy, cooperation and self-awareness.

One of the presenters, Dr. Lori Marino, outlined the ramification of recognizing cetacean “personhood” as it relates to whaling: “Once you shift from seeing a being as a property, a commodity, a resource, to a person, an autonomous entity that has a right to life on his or her own terms, the whole framework shifts.. this is not about harvesting resources, this is about murder.”

The Declaration has a long road to any kind of passage or world recognition, and faces stiff opposition from the whaling industry, from marine parks or facilities that keep whales, dolphins and porpoises in captivity, and from some religious groups who object to equating animal species with humans.

Caveats and Precedents
A case might be made that there are pressing concerns to preserve and expand human rights in the world. Canada’s National Post quotes a spokesperson of the Archdiocese of Vancouver, when asked about the declaration: “I sometimes wonder whether we’ve got our priorities mixed up when we treat animals and the environment with more respect than human beings. There are billions of people around the world who deserve our attention.” Opponents seem to assume that compassion is a zero sum game, as if extending rights to one group means there’s less to go around for everyone else.

However, extending the concept of personhood beyond human individuals is a fraught action, as we have seen in the U.S. case, Citizens United. By declaring that corporations are persons, the Supreme Court unleashed a torrent of corporate funding into an already cash-engorged political system. If the concept of personhood can be extended to corporations, surely the case could be made that dolphins are at least as human as Exxon Mobil or Monsanto.

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Photo by Paul Anderson via MorgueFile Free License

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373 comments

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1:09AM PST on Dec 10, 2013

I always thought that they -- dolphins and whales were friends -- out in the wild -- requiring incredible respect, awesome and magnificent creatures.

12:52AM PST on Dec 10, 2013

Noticed.

7:07AM PST on Dec 9, 2013

This protection can not come soon enough. But we need stronger protections than what is proposed here!

7:45PM PDT on May 21, 2013

Have there been any further developments on this? The sooner the Declaration is passed, the better...

3:31AM PDT on Apr 9, 2013

Right on LILING and Natasha! What arrogance of "humans" that they debate whether another life form on this planet we SHARE with them don't OWN ( get it filfthy greedy bankers, governments, companies?) has a RIGHT to live without us nuking it, abusing it, selling it into slavery or stealing it's fur?
Most of human creations have caused misery, death, enslavement and control of oithers. We are not great- we are pathetic really.

3:24AM PDT on Apr 9, 2013

They deserves their rights as they are part of this planet.

And the shameful fact is that, we humans are way too small and fragile when compared to many other species of animals.
Yet we stupidly thinks that we are the superb species of all when accompanies with the advanced technologies and many murderous tools in hand!

Just let them go and let them live the lives that they want in the wild ocean!
We have no rights to meddle with their lives at all

1:21PM PST on Jan 26, 2013

All animals deserve and should have equal rights as we enjoy. This should not even be up for discussion. Thanks for this great article.

8:52AM PST on Jan 26, 2013

Thank you for sharing.

5:48AM PST on Jan 9, 2013

We need this declaration

5:33PM PST on Dec 31, 2012

Yes i vote strongly for their rights and hope it happens soon and for all animals we will continue to fight for their rights and causes they deserve our protection from ugly mankind's ways

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