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Call for Dolphins to be Recognized as 'Non-Human Persons'

A group of scientists, ethicists and animal welfare groups have proposed a Declaration of Rights for dolphins. The group says dolphins and other cetaceans are sufficiently intelligent and self-aware that they should be thought of as “non-human persons” and given due protection under law.

The group who drew up the Declaration of Rights are known as the Helsinki Group and brought their message to the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada, the world’s biggest science conference.

The Declaration of Rights states that every individual member of the cetacean order – whales, dolphins and porpoises – has a right to life.  It also says that no one has the right to own the creatures or to do anything that undermines their rights, freedoms or norms. This would mean an end to whaling and the captivity of dolphins and whales, or their use in entertaiiment.

Ethics expert Professor Tom White, from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, author of In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier, said: “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.”

Psychologist Dr Lori Marino, from Emory University in Atlanta, told how scientific advances had changed the view of the cetacean brain. 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. Its different in the way it’s put together but in terms of the level of complexity its very similar to the human brain.”

Dolphins had a sense of self which could be tested by the way they recognise themselves in mirrors, she added.

“When you get up in the morning and look in the mirror and know that’s you, you have a sense of ‘you’,” said Dr Marino. “They have a similar sense. They can look in a mirror and say, ‘Hey, that’s me’.”

Visit to Sign the declaration and join a global call to have rights formally declared for cetaceans.

Image Source: Pete Markham/Flickr