For centuries humans have had an interest in whales, though it hasn’t been until now that we have realized that these giant marine mammals (along with other cetaceans) have high intelligence and consciousness. Still, there are many countries who only view these animals as mindless animals and slaughter them without remorse. While cetacean rights are nothing new (an Emory scientist pushed for non-human person status for dolphins back in January of 2010) the most recent conference held by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) drafted and approved the right for all cetaceans to have life, liberty and well-being.
While fellow European countries like Norway, Iceland and Greenland continue their commercial whale hunt, Finland hosted the most recent whale and dolphin conservation conference featuring the WDCS and experts in philosophy, law and ethics. Increased study shows whales and dolphins to have a high level of self-awareness and complex level of society like humans. Hal Whitehead of Dalhousie University pointed to the fact that sperm whales restricted the strength of their sonar so they didn’t deafen others around them as evidence of cetacean awareness and morality Other biologists pointed to dolphins’ recognition in mirrors as evidence of self-awareness [Source: Treehugger]. MRI scans show that dolphins are more intelligent than chimpanzees (already granted non-human person status in Spain) and contain as many surface folds in their brains as humans [Source: Treehugger]. Thomas Mount of Loyola University argues that the mounting evidence of dolphin intelligence makes humans’ actions against them indefensible. But it’s not just the slaughter of these creatures that is unacceptable, but their captivity as well, which is why the attendants of the meeting proposed a formal Declaration on the rights for whales and dolphins’ that states:
- Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
- No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
- All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
- No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
- Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.
- Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
- The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law.
- Cetaceans are entitled to an international order in which these rights, freedoms and norms can be fully realized.
- No State, corporation, human group or individual should engage in any activity that undermines these rights, freedoms and norms.
- Nothing in this Declaration shall prevent a State from enacting stricter provisions for the protection of cetacean rights.
This declaration stands in strong opposition to the International Whaling Committee’s proposal to lift the ban on commercial whaling in their next annual meeting in June 2010. This declaration may not sway Iceland, Norway or Japan to stop whaling, however it can help put pressure on the IWC to not lift the ban on whaling. For countries that adopt the declaration, it can serve as a way for humans to have a different relationship with these creatures and, hopefully, with the environment.