In 2013, the India government classified dolphins as non-human persons with their own specific rights. Because of this declaration, keeping dolphins in captivity has been banned in India. The country was the first to do so in the world, causing many people to ask questions and learn more about dolphins. Many were confused about the title “non-human persons.” Does this mean dolphins are people? Well, no. Granting dolphins personhood just gives them the same protections that basic human rights allow us.
The Nonhuman Rights Project, an organization devoted to fighting for personhood rights for animals, explains that the goal of granting animals basic human rights is to”…change the common law status of at least some nonhuman animals from mere “things,” which lack the capacity to possess any legal right, to “persons,” who possess such fundamental rights as bodily integrity and bodily liberty, and those other legal rights to which evolving standards of morality, scientific discovery, and human experience entitle them.”
Organizations, like Nonhuman Rights Project and the Dolphin Project, are helping to bring attention to how close animals are to humans. Following India’s ruling, Malibu and San Francisco passed resolutions calling for the recognition of cetacean rights. A similar resolution has also been called for in Romania.
These bans and resolutions are in place because once you learn about these animals, you realize how much we have in common with them. Here are a few of those reasons:
1. We are Social Animals
Like us, dolphins have families, as well as social groups. You know, those people you never get tired of seeing. We may refer to it as our clique, but there is a scientific term for these groups of dolphins. Called “pods,” dolphins travel in groups of diverse numbers. Like us, they could have as little as two individuals in their group or a pod could reach up to 1,000 individuals.
2. We Speak in Different Dialects
Depending on their pod and geographical area, orcas (which are actually not whales, they’re the largest classified dolphin) can “speak” in different dialects. You can compare this to the accents we have across the world: American, British, Australian, Irish, and so on. This happens the same way it happens to us: our environment and learned behavior from our superiors. There is even evidence that orcas and bottlenose dolphins can learn each other’s languages, the same way we learn other languages – but they do it all without Rosetta Stone.
3. We Give Each Other Names
Dolphins may not be calling out for “Susie” or “Bob” in the ocean, but studies have shown that they do have personalized whistles for members of their pod.
4. We Have Sex for Pleasure
There are few mammals that engage in sex while the female is not ovulating. Bonobos (pygmy chimps) are one of these, and so are dolphins and humans.
5. We Have Various Sexual Identities
In an Australian-based study, scientists followed 120 dolphins for five years to take a closer look at dolphins’ social lives. They found that there are homosexual and bisexual relationships within the groups, with these relationships mainly happening between male dolphins.
6. Our Brains Are Very Similar
For her Ph.D. thesis, scientist Lori Marino compared the skulls of dolphins and toothed whales to apes. She found that in terms of size relative to the body, dolphins have larger brains. In fact, they come in second for the largest brain relative to body size, right below humans. But it’s not the size of the brain, it’s what you can do with it. And dolphins are capable of some pretty complex things relative to their brain. In studies, it has been found that dolphins are in fact better at communication than humans. With their ability to produce and receive sounds, dolphins are capable of sending and receiving information at 20 times the speed we can.
7. We Recognize Ourselves in Mirrors
There’s a difference between looking in a mirror and understanding what’s there. We’ve seen our dogs and cats study the mirror with confusion. Dolphins, on the other hand, know exactly what they’re looking at: themselves. Not only that, but they also recognize changes in their appearance, showing a complex form of self-awareness.
8. We Have Very Similar Genetics
Throughout studies, geneticists have found that the human genome and the dolphin genome are basically the same. Texas A&M Scientist Dr. David Busbee explains, “It’s just that there are a few chromosomal rearrangements that have changed the way the genetic material is put together.”
So Green Monsters, do you think that we’re really that different from dolphins?
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