Should Dolphins and Whales Have "Human Rights"?

By Joseph Calamia | May 24, 2010 4:50 pm

dolphinFrom the heroic Flipper to the charismatic Willy, dolphins and whales have made some splashy supporting actors. And since they often seem almost as smart and interesting as their human costars, perhaps it’s not surprising that a new movement is afoot to grant these animals “human rights.”

Research on everything from whale communication to “trans-species psychology” hints that the glowing portrayals of these fictional animal friends have some basis in reality. If cetaceans—marine mammals including whales, dolphins, and porpoises—can act like humans, even using tools and recognizing themselves in a mirror, shouldn’t they have the same basic rights as people?

That’s what attendees of a meeting organized by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) said yesterday, where a multidisciplinary panel agreed on a “Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins.”

“We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and well being,” says the Declaration, meant in part to stop current whaling practices.

Thomas White, director of the Center for Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University in California, told Reuters:

“Whaling is ethically unacceptable…. They have a sense of self that we used to think that only human beings have.”

This declaration conflicts with ongoing negotiations within the International Whaling Commission, which hopes to discuss lifting the ban on commercial whaling at its annual meeting next month. Those in favor of lifting the ban say it would actually reduce the number of whales killed over the next decade. But Business Wire reports that the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society takes a hard line stance:

“Whales and Dolphins cannot, and should not be seen as a resource. It is this out-of- date approach that allows for their continued killing, as well as polluting and destroying their natural environment. It is time we see them, and treat them, as beyond use,” says Chris Butler-Stroud, chief executive of WDCS.

As the declaration asks that no cetacean be held captive or exploited for commercial gain, it targets more than whalers and dolphin hunters. Unless, SAG has something to say for these mammals, perhaps they should no longer grace prime-time TV and movie screens.

Related content:
80beats: Great Apes Have the Right to Life and Liberty, Spain Says
80beats: Will Commercial Whale Hunts Soon Be Authorized?
80beats: Commando Filmmakers Expose Secret Dolphin Slaughter in Japan
Not Exactly Rocket Science: How dolphins prepare the perfect cuttlefish meal
Not Exactly Rocket Science: Boto dolphins woo females with chat-up vines
DISCOVER: How to Weave a Dolphin-Friendly Net

Image: flickr / The Pug Father

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