India First Nation Ever To Acknowledge Dolphins As Nonhuman Persons; Outlaw Cetacean Captivity
On May 24, 2013, scientists and cetacean advocates alike were awestruck, inspired and elated to learn that India has become the first Nation in the world to acknowledge dolphins as nonhuman persons. To those unfamiliar with the overwhelming evidence in support of this acknowledgment; of the remarkable self-awareness, language, culture, deeply emotional and profoundly social nature of dolphins and whales, this may sound bizarre — but the phenomenon of nonhuman personhood is, in fact, a credible and laudable assertion.
Cetaceans (dolphins, whales and porpoises) have long been understood to be remarkably intelligent. A wealth of scientific evidence has shown that they are closest to us in terms of cognitive capacity and self-awareness than any other species. Dr. Thomas I. White, author of “In Defense Of Dolphins: A New Moral Frontier,” introduced many to the concept of the definition of “personhood:” What is a “person,” and what distinguishes persons from other life forms on our planet? His work has had considerable influence regarding the realization that humans are not alone in possessing the qualities of personhood — dolphins and whales do, too. While other primates, some parrots and elephants are self-aware, as well, no beings are closer to us than cetacea. Dr. Lori Marino, a prominent neurobiologist, researcher and leader in the field of cetacean intelligence, has shown that dolphin brains are even closer to our own than those of the great apes.
The following paragraphs are excerpted from Dr. White’s website:
“Scientific research into the “inner world” of dolphins reveals signs of an advanced consciousness that have traditionally been thought to be unique to humans: selfawareness; emotions; self-conscious reflection on the contents of consciousness; solving problems by using abstract thought; grasping the causal structure of one’s environment; innovative and creative thinking; operating in “foreign cognitive environments”; and using tools. Dolphins have also demonstrated the ability to work with the basic elements of human language: vocabulary; grammatical rules and grammatical categories that assemble symbols into meaningful sentences; sentences as complex as 5- word commands that include modifiers and both direct and indirect objects; and questions as well as commands.”
“Most evidence for dolphin intelligence, however, points to a high level of social intelligence. Dolphins cooperate with each other—even forming second-order alliances in some communities—in handling the most important tasks for survival. They keep aggression from getting out of hand. They appear to have both acoustic and nonacoustic ways to communicate vital information to members of their school. And they devote a good deal of time and energy to developing and maintaining strong relationships with other members of the group. Indeed, the centrality of relationships in their lives probably means that on a daily basis they process more emotional information and are called on to use emotional skills more than humans do. It is difficult to look at all of this and not conclude that there is an impressive level of intelligence behind it.”
“Dolphins, then, clearly qualify as “nonhuman persons” with a moral standing equivalent to humans. “Persons” are traditionally regarded as beings who: are alive and aware of their environment; have the capacity for pleasure and pain; have emotions and a sense of self; control their actions; recognize other persons and treat them appropriately; and have a variety of higher order intellectual skills (including abilities to learn, to communicate, to solve complex problems, and to engage in abstract thought). Scientific research on dolphins shows that they have all of these traits. That is, dolphins are unquestionably a “who,” not a “what.” They are persons, not objects or property.”
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In May of 2010, an international group of scientists, ethologists and philosophers came together for an academic conference in Helsinki, Finland. They reviewed research publications and shared knowledge from their own areas of expertise regarding our understanding of these fascinating, complex and extraordinary beings. They then ratified a “Cetacean Bill Of Rights.”
In 2012, this issue was further evaluated at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) — the world’s biggest science conference.
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Since that time, an ever-increasing body of knowledge has been amassed in support of their findings: Cetacea are much more complex and capable of higher brain function than we’ve ever previously imagined.
India is the first Nation to formally acknowledge this fact, and it is my sincere hope that the rest of the world will ultimately follow suit — preferably soon! <3
The following video covers further information regarding India’s decision, the Cetacean Bill Of Rights, and further supportive evidence of cetacean intelligence and personhood:
India 1st Nation To Acknowledge Dolphins As Nonhuman Persons; Outlaw Captivity — 5.24.13
For more information, please see links below.
Article about cetacea and personhood, including info from AAAS Conference, Vancouver BC, Canada:
Helsinki Conference; Cetacean Bill Of Rights:
Dr. White’s website:
Dr. Dee Eggers’ “Dolphins and Personhood” lecture at TEDxTalks Ashville:
Scientific American article discussing cetacean neurology and intelligence (2008):
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- India Bans Captive Dolphin Shows as ‘Morally Unacceptable’ (willyloman.wordpress.com)
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