It 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?