On February 4, a draft law advocating for dolphin nonhuman personhood was presented to the Romanian government by MP Remus Cernea, a compassionate dolphin advocate.

Cernea’s law seeks to declare individual dolphins as nonhuman persons and to accord them the rights to life, bodily integrity, right to free movement and right to be protected in their natural environment.

“Dolphins deserve the right to live their lives, free, in the ocean. They currently do not have that right. That needs to change,” says Ric O’Barry, director of Dolphin Project and star of the Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove.” “I fully support Cernea’s draft law to get personhood for dolphins.  And I encourage other nations to join India and Romania in affording personhood rights to dolphins.”

Cernea’s law forms an important contribution to an emerging international dialogue of nonhunman personhood. In 2013, landmark campaign initiated by Dolphin Project and the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO) resulted in the Indian government enacting a nationwide ban on dolphin captivity and an historic statement in favor of dolphin personhood: “Dolphins should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose,” the statement reads.

Behind the legal advocacy of personhood, however, lies a need for each of us to evolve our own perspectives. As a species, we have arrived at a point where our collective ethics have not caught up with what we now understand about dolphins (and indeed, other nonhuman life): that we are more like them than not.

Political theorist Hannah Arendt wrote about the “dark times” that occur when generally accepted theories and societal laws become out of sync with human knowledge. We now find ourselves in such a time, when what we have so long believed about nonhumans — that they are unthinking machines designed solely for our exploitation — turns out to be scientifically bunk.

Personhood is the necessary first step on the long road towards shifting our hearts, minds and legal structures to a more compassionate, and logical, place. Dolphins are still considered property, along with every other living thing on this planet besides human beings (and, worryingly, corporations). Should dolphins be considered legal persons, governments would be obligated to protect them and they would have the rights to their own lives — something they are currently without.

Regardless of whether Cernea’s law gets passed, the effort is important as it contributes to the emerging dialogue of dolphin rights and our evolving perceptions of nonhuman life. It is up to each of us to make sure this evolution happens as swiftly as possible.

Image Source: Mark Interrante/Flickr