India Declares Dolphins & Whales As ‘Non-Human Persons,’ Dolphin Shows Banned

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dolphins-od-on-heroinIt was a great day for animal rights activists around the world when India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests agreed to ban the use of dolphins and other cetaceans such as whales and porpoises for public entertainment and forbid them from being held captive anywhere in India.

This decision was made after India had decided to open up several parks featuring aquariums with dolphins and whales. Activists began protesting and trying to explain how dolphins and whales are in fact much smarter than we may have thought and their cognitive abilities are quite impressive. A lot of information was given in favour of these mammals to showcase just how intelligent they really are. The notion was given that it was entirely inhumane to keep these animals in captivity.

The movement for dolphin and cetacean rights really took off and gained some ground in 2011 when the American Association for the Advancement of Science held a meeting that included conservationists, environmentalists, philosophers, and animal behaviorists. They began to gather support for the Declaration of Rights For Cetaceans from the scientific community. The declaration states (1):

1. Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
2. No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
3. All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
4. No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
5. Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.
6. Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
7. The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law.

For many, it has been long known that dolphins and whales are extremely intelligent creatures. This is probably why they were being locked up in aquariums and zoos and being forced to do tricks in the first place.  Dolphins have been known to recognize their own reflection in a mirror, give each other distinct names, solve puzzles, they even have their own culture and hunting practices.

In the video clip below you will see some smart dolphins in action as they assist fisherman. A tradition that has been going on for 150 years, has been passed down through generations of fishermen, but even more generations of dolphins.

So, the question remains… is it fair that only dolphins and whales receive this title of ‘Non-Human Persons?’ Or should we include other intelligent animals as well? Where do we draw the line? Why shouldn’t all animals have equal rights? And especially, the right to life?



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  1. dixie

    it was cool

  2. Dan Eckam

    It seems to me that the headline gets it wrong. India didn’t “declare” anything about “non-human persons” with this law, they were simply noting, in a “whereas” clause, something that many scientists believe. Unless I’m mistaken, that doesn’t carry any legal weight. Here is the full paragraph, from :

    “Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphin should be seen as “non-human persons” and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose,”

  3. MT

    AS nice as this story is, it would be good to see India extending the same dignity to its women. Until I stop hearing about gang rapes and children being sold into the sex trade, then their position of the treatment of dolphins is meaningless.

    • Pamela

      Gang rape & the human trafficking happens both here in the UK and across the pond in the US too, MT, all over Europe, actually. We hear about it on our news just the same as we hear about these tragedies over there.
      Crimes here are every bit as horrendous as over there – but we hear about and focus on extremes, because that’s what makes the news, whilst good stories usually go unheard (we like to feed our prejudices – not our recognition of good in others).
      This story is forward thinking and further evolved than our countries and deserves respect.
      They are showing a great deal of compassion – and for that I’m very proud of them and hopeful for the future.

  4. Hi, I am not finding any news sources reporting this story. Any suggestions?

    • Pamela Morrison

      Santosh, I bought a magazine back in January 2014 with the full article on it (can’t remember the name of the magazine – but bought it from W. H. Smith’ so, pretty mainstream) detailing the Indian government’s decision.

  5. romi m

    Interesting… It is not forbidden for people to be used for public entertainment. It is not forbidden for people to beat each other for entertainment. It is encouraged to use more and more sex and violence even in shows for kids. Becomes worse and worse. But yea…. It is forbidden to use dolphins to bring some joy and laughter to children..

    • Lori

      But people can choose to be in the entertainment world etc, dolphins don’t have that choice if a human kidnaps them from the ocean! Food is withheld so they will perform tricks etc. They swim about 40 miles a day in the wild, orcas swim about 100 miles a day. It is not natural for them to swim in a small tank in circles!

      • romi m

        You read only the first part of my comment huh. Kids cannot choose what they watch. They get told that they can watch this or can’t watch that. If they are not looked after, then they choose. In that case, it is likely they will get across something bad or violent (you know what internet is like).

        All the time people are driven by their surroundings, beliefs and situations. I think, the majority of strippers or prostitutes are not in that business because they could choose, but because there was no choice.

        Almost all the time you have an illusion of choice. In reality, you are choosing between what one big guy wants over what another one wants.

        My big point is: “It is forbidden to use dolphins to bring some joy and laughter to children..”

        • Marcos

          yes, it is forbidden (and it should be that way in all the globe) to use dolphins to bring some joy and laughter to children.. they aren’t clowns.

          in respect of strippers and prostitutes… it’s hard to say if they are or not free to choose the life they live, and same applies to every person.
          we are immersed in a determinated system with a lot of defects. and we can hardly escape from our own reallity (very interesting and philosophical matter:

          It could be easier (and sometimes, a mistake) to suppose that in Amsterdam, where prostitution is legal and also supposedly controlled, the prostitutes are more free to choose than in countries like mine, Argentina, were prostitutes are sex slaves, kidnapped from their houses, living in terrible conditions. It is stupid to clarify it isn’t choosen at all here.
          I’m not saying legalization is the answer, I don’t know the issues that legalizating it could bring.. I don’t know the right answer either… I think it’s the work for sociologists and politicians. But it’s not washing my hands: me and you, as human beings, have the work of making these issues visible. (You are doing it well on respect of humans issues)
          But we can talk about humans issues AND about animals issues. We must work on them both. For me it’s okay we try to fix both at the same time. There is a starting… If we ALL worked on these matters, we could make a big difference.

          But in my opinion, it’s out of discussion if ANY animal should be used to entertain us.
          The question “Where do we draw the line?” is very pertinent. the right to freedom.. shouldn’t it be absolute? (a quote from the movie “The duchess” comes to my mind) that question applies to dolphins, cows, trees, prostitutes or butterflies! And we have the power to draw the line, but do we have the right to do it?

          About the new Indian law: I think it’s a mistake to justify the right to freedom on a category of intelligence.. that justification reminds me of african and native american slaves in past centuries. Scientists were trying to say black people had smaller brains and natives were animals…
          (You can say it’s different: “black people aren’t less smart than white people, but animals are…” Based on our own conception of knowledge which conveniently positioned us humans on top… that shows how the “knowledge” have been til our days, just another way of domination whatever human-human or humanity-nature)
          At last, after nazis tried to do the same, none would try to justify superiority between humans openly and scientifically, right? it would be “unhuman”..
          It still happens, there are still many people treated “like animals” (btw, terrible expression as it still refers to the fact of being ill treated. Very derogatory), but can’t be justified.
          Equally, we should not justify our actions on animals according to their intelligence but appreciating they are complex ways of lives, with millions of years of evolution.

      • romi m

        I mean, what, you think that dolphins don’t have a false feeling of choice of what they do (like you for example)? It is not possible to claim that. You, wholeheartedly believe that you have choice to do whatever, but it is highly unlikely that you actually have it. So, may be dolphins are in the same situation. The difference is YOU can see that it is not true for them, while you can NOT see that it is not true for you. (food for thought)

      • Jimeh

        The dolphins will choose to do anything for a tasty fish snack!

    • Ymb

      Hello! Those people get paid and make those decisions for themselves! These beautiful mammals didn’t get a choice, they are taken away from there families. Watch Blachfish, maybe you will change your mind.

  6. raghu

    yeah cows are kind of holy in my country but u still get beef in many parts of the country.and the sad thing is that most of the leather trade in europe etc.comes from indian cows and since many states have banned the slaughter of cows they are starved and kept alive in inhumane ways over long distances and are almost dead and cant even stand on their feet by the time they reach the destination and some of the methods they use to keep them standing are soo cruel ,inhumane and ignorant .i urge anyone who hasent seen “”we are earthlings” and “the cove” to see them,these are some documentaries that are truly life changing.

  7. well, thats nice! though, well, i cant say it strikes me as a shocking piece of good news- dolphins n whales declared as “non human persons”- in a country where cows r holy.

  8. bee

    The irony of India’s ruling is that it appears that whales and dolphins are treated much better under the law than a lot of Indian women.

    • raghu

      youre funny, but indian women have complete freedom of everything. well………..if youre referring to the rapes then i guess i have no answer. .all i can say is that a country with soo many people is assured to have its fair share of assholes and retards.well there are many problems everywhere on the globe .atleast people are waking up and taking action these days .

  9. I love it, great news, great progress, seems logical to apply this to human too no?

  10. John

    May not be as economically developed but from a moral stand point they seem to be far ahead in this regard.

    • ok and?

  11. lifegamer

    It will be a love-ly day when humans produce such a declaration unto themselves, will it not?
    And even love-lier when they See any ‘others’ as simply “non-human-persons”…”Persons” perhaps being the common denominator to realizing the Oneness of All. I’m excited!

    Thanks for the update on humans gaining intelligence in their process, Alanna…Always nice to See, in all ways it becomes! There are surely pods of peeps in grand celebration of this “one small step for man”!

    I do hope that Understanding will be used in returning these Water-born…Some may wish to remain with their human companions & should have the ‘right’ to do so…much like the humans who chose to remain in water…(another veil to lift at another time). :)

    Blessings to bring more of such success stories! <3

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