Dolphins Should Be Given ‘Human’ Rights Say Scientists
Dolphins Deserve Rights
Dolphins should be given ‘human’ rights say scientists and a group of specialists in the study of ethics. They have called for dolphins and whales to be given a bill of rights that would protect them under international law.
The group argue that such is the evidence of intelligence, complex behaviour and self-awareness displayed by dolphins and whales that they warrant protection in law as sentient beings in the same way as humans do.
To enshrine the rights of these marine mammals, the scientists have called for a declaration of rights for cetaceans -a classification that includes whales, dolphins and porpoises. Under such a charter they would be declared ‘non-human persons’ and afforded legal protections akin to human rights, such as the right to life.
Quoted in the Guardian, Tom White, director of the Centre for Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles and author of In Defence of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier stated that: “individuality, consciousness and self-awareness are no longer unique human properties. That poses all kinds of challenges.”
For some time now research has been pointing scientists to the conclusion that whilst strongly distinct from those of humans, the brains of whales and particularly dolphins are highly complex and sophisticated and that they are capable of comprehending symbols, abstract thought, using tools and recognising themselves in the mirror.
Studies have shown that the creatures displayed self-awareness and were able to tackle complex tasks, even trying to outwit the scientists studying them by turning the tasks to their advantage in order to gain extra rewards. When the dolphins in question had worked out how to manipulate the experiment to their advantage they went on to teach the technique to other dolphins who in turn passed the knowledge on to others still.
Dolphins’ ‘life, liberty and wellbeing’
If the scientists succeed in having the proposal made law, it would be the first time a non-human has been legally recognised as having individual rights in such a sense. This would have implications for the way humans treat dolphins and their cetacean compatriots in future.
Speaking at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Vancouver, the group put forward the 10-point declaration to safeguard the ‘life, liberty and wellbeing’ of dolphins and whales. They hope to push for this to be adopted on a regional, national and eventually multinational level. This process could be a fraught and lengthy one however, with 10 years being an optimistic estimate for how long it might take to achieve recognition for the declaration.
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