When we talk about allowing nonhuman animals to have rights, most people are a bit confused as to why that would even be necessary. Why would a dolphin or a whale want to vote? We know, it can be a bit perplexing, but in reality, the discussion over giving animals rights is much more simple than that. Giving dolphins and whales human rights means allowing them to have protections that would enable them to lead lives on their own right, not be subjected to the will of humans, just because.

For many years people assumed that animals did not possess the ability to feel or rationalize their experiences, but more and more we are learning this is just not the case. Whales and dolphins are a wonderful example of creatures that we have learned possess incredible cognitive abilities. Not only are these animals able to feel emotions, they call each other by name, can solve problems and actually have brains that are more complex than a humans.

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The fault in our assumption that these beings can’t feel or think (like we can) has led us to exploit these creatures for our own entertainment. We’ve put them in fishbowls and separated them from their families to lead a lonely existence or mind-numbing boredom.

And yet, even after knowing all this, some people just aren’t convinced that whales and dolphins don’t deserve to have basic human rights. But do we know what this would really mean? According to Laura Bridgeman from The Dolphin Project, these are the basic characteristics that many agree qualify a being to be a human person:

  1. Being Consciousness
  2. Having self-awareness
  3. Having emotions
  4. Having control over one’s actions, the ability to make decisions
  5. Recognizing other persons
  6. Being able to solve complex problems
  7. Possessing cognitive sophistication

All of these traits have been observed in whales and dolphins. To allow them to have basic human rights would not mean that they get to weigh in the next political election, but that they can legally have liberty and freedom and exist without fear or harm.

Does that sound too extreme?

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Image source: Leo Reynolds/Flickr