The UK Press Association
reports that the group of experts in philosophy, ethics, conservation and dolphin behaviour are canvassing for a "Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans." The group is seeking to have its proposed bill of rights cover all animals of the order cetacea
which includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. The bill states that no one has the right to own these creatures or take any action to undermine their rights and freedoms. The group believes dolphins and their whale cousins are sufficiently intelligent and self-aware enough to justify granting them the same ethical considerations as humans.
reports that the "Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans" was written by a group called the Helsinki Group
, which includes members of the UK Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
. They hope to see the cetaceans bill of rights enshrined in law. The bill will prevent dolphins being kept in zoos and waterparks. It will also prohibit dolphins being attacked by fishermen. This bill would effectively mean an end to whaling and captivity of dolphins and their use in entertainment. The Guardian
reports that if incorporated into law the bill of rights will bring legal force to bear on whale hunters, marine parks, aquariums. Entertainment venues would be barred from keeping dolphins, whales or porpoises in captivity.
The American Association for the Advancement of Science's annual conference held in Vancouver was also told that whales should be protected by declaring whalers murderers. The group is proposing that whale watching trips should be governed by regulations which respect the privacy of the whales. Oil companies would also be legally bound to consider the impact of their activities on the sea animals.
Dolphins are 'non-human persons'
According to the group, scientific evidence shows that dolphins are extremely intelligent, complex and sensitive mammals. Dolphins have the largest brain after humans relative to body weight on the planet. Research, the group claims, shows that dolphins and whales have large complex brains and a human-like level of self-awareness which justifies defining them as "people" in a philosophical sense. Dolphins are self-aware and can recognize themselves in the mirror. They grieve for lost "loved ones," feed ailing companions and can cooperate on their own initiative with fisherman. The Guardian
reports experts say dolphins and whales have complex vocal communications. They are able to learn a variety of behaviours in interaction with humans.
According to the UK Press Association
, ethics expert, Professor Thomas White from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, author of "In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier," said: "Scientific evidence is now strong enough to support the claim that dolphins are, like humans, self-aware, intelligent beings with emotions and personalities. Accordingly, dolphins should be regarded as 'non-human persons' and valued as individuals. From an ethical perspective, the injury, deaths and captivity of dolphins are wrong."
Psychologist Dr Lori Marino of the Emory University in Atlanta, told the conference how advances in the study of cetacean brain has radically changed scientific perception of the animals. She said: "We went from seeing the dolphin/whale brain as being a giant amorphous blob that doesn't carry a lot of intelligence and complexity to not only being an enormous brain but an enormous brain with an enormous amount of complexity, and a complexity that rivals our own. It's different in the way it's put together but in terms of the level of complexity it's very similar to the human brain."
Dolphin keepers tell amazing stories of the intelligence and insight dolphins exhibit. The Guardian
tells the remarkable story of a dolphin named Kelly kept at the Institute for Marine Mammal Studies in Mississippi, who outwitted its human keepers with tricks that allowed it to obtain extra gifts of fish:
"Dolphins at the centre were rewarded with fish if they collected litter from their tanks and carried it in their mouths to the staff but Kelly found a weakness in the scheme. When people dropped paper into her tank, she hid it under a rock on the bottom. When a keeper next approached, she swam down and tore a small piece off, and returned to the surface to claim her reward. She worked out that a small piece of paper earned the same reward as a big piece, and so maximised her meals.
"Then one day, Kelly managed to grab a gull that flew into the tank. When she delivered it to her keepers, she got an especially large fish reward. The next time Kelly was fed she hid the fish at the bottom of the pool, and later brought it to the surface to lure more gulls into the pool. The strategy proved so successful that she taught her offspring, who went on to teach others."