Whales and dolphins are intelligent and cultural creatures and should be granted basic personhood rights, scientists will argue this weekend in Vancouver.
Lori Marino, a professor at Emory University in Atlanta, and Thomas White of Loyola Marymount University in California plan to present the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference in Vancouver this weekend.
The declaration aims to open a discussion about the ethical and policy implications of giving cetaceans basic personhood rights. According to the scientists, research has proven that whales have cultural and cognitive abilities similar to humans.
Whales are self-aware — they can recognize themselves in mirrors — they understand symbolic language and they think about others in a way comparable to humans.
“They’re very similar to us: (they) have a sense of individual identity, personality, the ability to control behaviour and abstract thinking,” White said. “They’re even more social beings than humans are.” They also have complex cultural lives involving learning, the transmission of cultural traits from one generation to the next and they use tools.
“We’ve shown that all these qualities that make humans persons are shared with other animals,” said Marino. “(They) shouldn’t be treated like property or objects — shouldn’t be confined, captured, slaughtered or exploited and all the things we still do to dolphins and whales,” she said. Annelise Sorg, president of the Coalition for No Whales in Captivity, said the symposium will “open up a door that hasn’t been opened to any other species before.”
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