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April 2012    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 38, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Dolphins Should Be Considered “Non-Human Humans”

from the April, 2012 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Dolphins and whales are so intelligent, they must be recognized as "non-human persons" with their own bill of rights, say researchers. An international team of scientists, philosophers and animal rights groups addressed the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver last month to discuss the "declaration of rights" for cetaceans.

They say that dolphins have cultures, societies and personalities that are so complex they should be seen as the same as people. They added that isolating dolphins and orcas in amusement parks is wrong because the animals are even more socially driven than humans, and that killing them amounts to murder.

Thomas White, an ethics expert at Loyola Marymount University, said, "The similarities between cetaceans and humans are such that they, as we, have an individual sense of self. Dolphins are non-human persons. A person needs to be an individual. If individuals count, then the deliberate killing of individuals of this sort is ethically the equivalent of deliberately killing a human being. The science has shown that individuality, consciousness, self awareness is no longer a unique human property. That poses all kinds of challenges."

Recognizing cetaceans in law is crucial, White said, because it would change harmful commercial whaling and certain fishing methods that kill hundreds of dolphins and whales a year. Whale watching trips should be regulated to respect the creatures' privacy, and developers and oil companies would have to consider the effect their projects would have on animals' lives and culture.

Recent studies on dolphins' brains show that they are more intelligent than chimpanzees, and the way they communicate with each other is similar to that of humans. They can also recognize themselves in mirrors, teach each other new types of behavior and think about the future.

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