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02/21/2012

Dolphins are people too: Non-human persons and the right to live  »

Apparently this science conference in Vancouver over the weekend was pretty interesting! They didn’t just talk about test tube burgers, they also talked about non-human persons! Man, what did I do this weekend? The only scientific advancement I made was in regard to my tolerance for rail vodka (but I assure you, we made great strides). Non-human persons are much more interesting. The idea is that there are animals with intelligence and consciousness that should grant them the right to life.  

A group of scientists and ethicists made the case this past weekend for “the declaration of rights for cetaceans,” under which, dolphins, whales, and porpoises would have the enforceable right to live:

"We’re saying the science has shown that individuality, consciousness and self-awareness are no longer unique human properties. That poses all kinds of challenges," said Tom White, director of the Centre for Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles.

"Dolphins are non-human persons. A person needs to be an individual. And if individuals count, then the deliberate killing of individuals of this sort is ethically the equivalent of deliberately killing a human being. The captivity of beings of this sort, particularly in conditions that would not allow for a decent life, is ethically unacceptable, and commercial whaling is ethically unacceptable," White said.

How interesting! Was this the idea behind Tilikum v. Seaworld? If the declaration were incorporated into law, Seaworld and the like would not be allowed to keep whales. 

The declaration is backed by experts and relies on the massive amounts of research that has been done on cetaceans in the past. Dolphins are said to be able to identify themselves in a mirror, use symbol-based language, use tools, learn skills and pass them on, and have individual personalities. Does that grant them rights? The UN is considering the declaration as part of its convention on migratory species. 

You really should read this Guardian piece on the whole thing as it has the most amazing stories about a rascally dolphin named Kelly who learned more and more ways to trick her captors into forking over more treats! Speaking of which, I’m working on my declaration of rights for rascals. Kelly would certainly be protected under the DRR. As would chimps, elephants, and Alan Thicke. 

You can sign the declaration of rights for cetaceans here!

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