Despite our burgeoning knowledge of things like technology and outer space, we still know so little about the other-than-human animals we share this planet with. It is because of this lack of understanding that we allow them to be used and abused as property in our factory farms, laboratories and in households. Fortunately, pioneering organizations like Sonar are doing work that could change all of that.

Sonar aims to revolutionize human understanding of who dolphins and whales are. The organization conducts some of the world’s most groundbreaking animal cognitive and emotion research ever done. This has big implications not only for the dolphins and whales but also for all other-than-human animals.


Science for Good

 This Amazing European Coalition is Fighting for a Captive Dolphin-Free EuropeJason/Flickr

A few key differences set Sonar’s work apart. Historically, animal science has been rather deranged. Horrors like vivisection, psychological torture, and other cruelties continue to be bestowed upon other-than-humans in untold numbers. By and large this science is done in order to benefit humans. Much of it is done by corporations as part of a business model. And all of it is done without considering their subjects as beings with hopes, fear, and dreams.

There has been some investigation of what animals themselves could be thinking, what they are feeling, and generally who they are as individuals. Yet most of these explorations occur within the artificial confines of a laboratory, where human researchers control the conditions, the questions and the results (with notable exceptions of field work such as Jane Goodall’s).

Sonar challenges contemporary science by conducting research with exclusively wild whales and dolphins. We work only with individuals who choose to participate, and on their terms. This includes friendly dolphins, known as “solitary sociable” dolphins, who initiate contact with humans and who appear to crave a connection with us.


Researching Dolphins in Their Natural Habitat to Help Them Stay Wild

Sonar also refutes the idea that science should be separate from ethics. And we discard assumptions that cetaceans are in any way inferior to human beings, something that is being increasingly proven as being false.

The value of meeting an other-than-human in the wild and engaging in a cooperative, cross-cultural exchange is monumental, as it yields deeper insights into who these beings are.  It also respects the individual in ways most science does not. After all, there is only so much you can learn from a captive animal, who has likely lived a life of trauma.


Sonar will be conducting their field research in September 2015. Stay tuned for a diary of their experience on their website and their Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts.

Lead image source: Alessandro Caproni/Flickr