“Human rights” urged for whales & dolphins – is this a good idea?

May 24, 2010
whales

NE Pacific Transient killer whale in Alaska/Dave Ellifrit/NOAA Alaska Fisheries Science Center

Whales and dolphins should get “human rights” to life and liberty because of mounting evidence of their intelligence, a group of conservationists and experts in philosophy, law and ethics said on Sunday.

Participants at a University of Helsinki conference said ever more studies show the giant marine mammals have human-like self-awareness, an ability to communicate and organize complex societies, making them similar to some great apes.

“We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and wellbeing,” they said in a declaration after a two-day meeting led by the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS).

Thomas White, director of the Center for Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University in California who was at the Helsinki talks, said dolphins can recognise themselves in a mirror, an ability rare in mammals that humans only acquire at about 18 months of age.  “Whaling is ethically unacceptable,” he told Reuters. “They have a sense of self that we used to think that only human beings have.”

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