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Dolphins as 'non-human persons'

Discussion in 'Pre-Veterinary' started by lostbunny, Feb 21, 2012.

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  1. lostbunny

    lostbunny

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    SDN Members don't see this ad. (About Ads)
    This article was on my Facebook feed and I just HAD to share it with you and all your opinions:

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-17116882

    It concerns 'experts' wanting to fight for a declaration of cetacean rights, basically classifying them as non human persons which would give them rights to freedom, i.e. not being hunted or owned- thus not being used at Sea World (I guess we'd just free all the Willies?).

    The problems I had with the article are that they constantly imply that dolphins show individuality- which I'm sure most of you know about the old red dot experiment. Elephants passed as well, and so did monkeys.

    If we give dolphins (non) human rights, then we'd have to give all the other cetaceans rights too- like porpoises, but have they passed the red dot test?

    And finally, I think all the monkeys and apes in the world would be pretty upset since they ARE our closest relatives here. Doesn't KoKo sign? I'm sure that counts for some brownie points.

    Okay I just had to share this because it was actually Sea Shepherd that posted this article and I can't stand the idiotic responses people wrote, so I'd like to enlighten myself and read something intelligent! Please share your views :)
  2. jrq09

    jrq09

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    I think this is SUCH a thought-provoking and novel idea that really requires we take a close look at evolution and our perception on life in general to fully comprehend. I absolutely believe it's a possibility.

    First off, it's SEVERELY limiting to think that we would need to lump primates in as "non-human persons" if we do the same with dolphins simply because they're more closely related to us. Any evolution course will tell you that every living organism is pretty much as far evolved as every other...we're not the most "progressive" or the "furthest along an evolutionary path."Maybe dolphins evolved intellectually just as we did, to a similar or equal extent...except that their evolutionary path consisted of adaptations to an aquatic environment, so vocal chords such as we have, hands, etc would not have been appropriate traits to develop. Unfortunately, lack of hands, similar facial muscles, and vocal anatomy prevents two-way communication between us and them, as that's pretty much the only means of communication we use. Just think...what ways COULD they show us, if they were to have the same intellectual and emotional capacities, given their anatomy? Without knowledge of any human language, they couldn't carve words into the sand. They wouldn't build underwater communities like we know them because they don't need to to survive in a marine environment. Perhaps they're as perfectly adapted to a marine world as we are to a terrestrial one, and perhaps their intellects match ours...there's just a lack of ability to communicate due to the extreme differences in the environments in which we live.

    Is it really that far-fetched, if you really think about it? Sorry...it's late, and I probably sound crazy :) But I don't think any such possibility can be excluded yet, and I definitely don't think we should exclude the idea simply because they look different than we do or are "less like us." There are some REALLY awesome videos and groups out there who are working to solve this mystery.
  3. jrq09

    jrq09

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    And if a group of researchers DID discover that dolphins had the emotional/mental capabilities of man, how on earth would they convince the general public? If dolphins are, how are they supposed to let us know? Scientists can't just tell them to do things and have them do it as proof...people view it as they view dogs doing tricks. The language they use is so different that verbal communication can never be used. Sign language is out due to their flippers. There are some crazy stories of them saving people, solving complex problems, etc...what more COULD they do to 'prove' that they're intellectually at a "person-level," if in fact they are? Maybe we're just so stubborn in our beliefs that we're the ones capable of culture, society, complex relationships, whatever it may be, that we'll never allow ourselves to believe it, even if it is true. As long as we're set on our views of there being "animals" and "people," that's where they'll stay, and it'd be a real tragedy if we're keeping organisms who are basically people in different bodies in aquariums and hunting them. Kind of like...how whites in America considered blacks to be lesser, and therefore did not question their right to enslave them? I know it's a HUGE stretch, haha...but to a lot of them, it seemed to be without a doubt.

    Just some food for thought :) I promise I"m done.
  4. lostbunny

    lostbunny

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    Yay someone finally commented!

    First off I just wanted to make it clear that in no way did I try to imply (and apologies if it sounded that way) that humans are 'higher' on the evolutionary scale. My biggest issue with giving cetaceans "non-human rights" is that this rule must go for ALL cetaceans, and not all of them have shown to be as "intellectual" as dolphins. So why do narwhals automatically get the green card because their dolphin cousins passed a test?

    Secondly if we, as humans, want to give these other creatures basically an invitation to 'our level', then isn't this essentially perpetuating the human vs. animal gap? Its saying that we like dolphins because they're smart and passed our tests, so we'll let them into our special club with special rights (not to mention while there are many actual homo sapiens with little or no rights).

    Yes I totally agree that dolphins and many other species have evolved in their own ways to become experts in their habitat, but is it really necessary to give special treatment to dolphins? What about ants and their incredible architectural, farming and cooperational skills? Octopus have also solved complex problems, but what about their rights?

    I think giving cetaceans non human rights is a very bad idea.
  5. twelvetigers

    twelvetigers Penguins are jerks. Gold Donor

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    "So long, and thanks for all the fish."
  6. lostbunny

    lostbunny

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    until that happens, I stand by my word! However, I feel like going all conspiracy now... thanks TT. Thanks.
  7. Bisbee

    Bisbee

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    I don't think that intelligence should be a reason for granting/not granting an animal the status of "person." Let's face it, there are some people who are less intelligent than some animals. I don't mean this to be flippant; I am referring to those with developmental disabilities. Should those people who are low-functioning then be classified as non-persons? As already pointed out, we humans tend to feel superior to other animals. Is this just because we deem ourselves more intelligent or has it to do with long-standing cultural beliefs surrounding our supposed "souls" which animals are purported not to possess? Certainly, there are those of us who don't believe in souls (myself included), and there are those who believe that if humans have souls, well then so do animals. In the end, as we are (here on SDN) scientists and must surely realize that we are all animals here on this planet together. Conferring "personhood" upon one species by another seems unmotivated in this context. Would the dolphins care? Would we care (or even realize) if dolphins gave us a special title?
  8. kaydubs

    kaydubs Bronze Donor

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    Ohhhhhhh I wrote papers and papers on such thingies.

    In conclusion: FREE! And let's focus on the fact that guns are shot by people (mosttttt of the time), Snipers, no swiping and yes, my heart hurts when I see that whales starve to death due to a bullet moving from the outer layer to the jaw and said whale starving to death. :mad:
  9. StartingoverVet

    StartingoverVet This space for rent Gold Donor

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    This is a topic I have been interested for a long time ...
    I believe that if animals rise to the level of consciousness, there is an ethical dilemma that needs to be resolved. Unfortunately consciousness is not easily defined, and for religious reasons will NEVER be accepted by some people.

    This is a fairly good primer on the subject if you are interested: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/consciousness-animal/

    When I was younger (stop laughing), the mirror test was a big deal and chimps and dolphins passed that one. Obviously, things have evolved quite a lot since them.

    ps - I wrote a term paper on Chimp signing and whether that was language or not. Wow, what a contentious subject for some. Almost rises to the level of the abortion debate.
  10. Bisbee

    Bisbee

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    Most humans (especially here in the religious U.S.) probably don't like the idea of calling an animal a "person" because people are considered "special" and "apart" from other species (with souls, an afterlife, etc. as stated above). However, we can certainly see "person"alities in our pets. In fact, I was surprised when I worked at a wildlife clinic to find out how much personality I noticed among different wild animals. There was a crow who was so friendly and perky, cocking his head to the side and raising his voice an octave to ask for his breakfast. Is that what makes someone a person? Having a personality? Or is it having intelligence? Or is it having consciousness? And like I said earlier, why would an animal care or even notice if we humans (animals not within their species) called/considered him a person? As long as we treat the animals with whom we come in contact with respect (not anthropomorphizing them, but accepting the individuals within the context of the species to which they belong).
  11. Bisbee

    Bisbee

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    Or maybe, because all of these things are so hard to measure in other species (intelligence, personality, consciousness), the definition of being a person should be based on the existence of the prefrontal lobe?
  12. cshep09

    cshep09

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    No one get angry but I'm just laughing about this post for me. My friends all know I actually hate dolphins and are probably my least favorite animal. Everyone, at least outside our community of amazing animal people, thinks they are all Flipper who love everybody and just wanna hug people and tow them around resorts. Dolphins rape, kill and pillage for fun just like all other animals :) Animal Planet has a special called "Dolphins: the Dark Side"

    Regarding the non-human debate, Sea Shepherd just did this because they love dolphins (which is great and fine). Any other species-advocate could probably say the same thing about their species. I dont know where I stand on the legal issue of calling them people however I think our society as humans need to eat some humble pie and realize we are animals too :)
  13. RetroUnicorn

    RetroUnicorn

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    So many good points! After working with them for a bit, I realized dolphins are definitely more savage than we think, even trained ones in a captive setting. At least we have evolved (well, most humans) to not kill and rape for fun.

    I think the legal part of this is when you call an animal a non-human person, there are always the people that argue "What would you consider a fetal baby? A mentally challenged person? A comatose patient?"
  14. bipolarbear123

    bipolarbear123

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    I'm so glad I found this thread! I've actually done a lot of research on this, and am in favor of granting dolphins nonhuman rights.

    The reason some scientists think dolphins should be considered "nonhuman persons" goes beyond intelligence. Dolphins (and whales), primates, and elephants all contain spindle neurons, which indicates they are highly intelligent. Furthermore, dolphins have culture, are self-aware, have been observed to mourn death. Since dolphins communicate via echolocation, some think it's cruel to keep a dolphin captive in a cement tank (like at Sea World). Since dolphins are extremely sensitive to sound, it's stressful to be around screaming crowds all day. Dolphins in captivity are under a lot of stress, and half of them die within about 2 years of being captive (in the wild, they live about 50 years). Furthermore, when captive dolphins are taken from the wild, it's like tearing someone from their family and friends, since dolphins are extremely social and form strong bonds with their young.

    Most marine parks and dolphinariums buy their dolphins from Taiji, Japan, which is the destination of the largest dolphin slaughter in the world. The fisherman basically herd in dolphins with a sound wall, sell off the ones that look like Flipper, and slaughter the rest for their meat (which contains large amounts of mercury). Although the US isn't allowed to ship in dolphins from Japan, other countries do (the biggest being China). Since this is where most places buy dolphins, and the process of obtaining the dolphins is anything but humane, many people are against dolphins in captivity.

    Anyway, it's very interesting. If you want more information, you should see the documentary, The Cove, which actually got me interested in all of this.
  15. lostbunny

    lostbunny

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    My issue is just that if other animals, as you mentioned, are 'indicated as intelligent' (spindle neurons) then WHY would only dolphins get this non-human status... what about elephants and chimps, as you mentioned.

    Giving special status to dolphins would protect them as a species- but would this *really* stop the illegal whale hunts that still go on? Would the fishermen of Taiji really stop hunting dolphins? Remember in the movie how they explained that these fishermen have basically been hunting the dolphins all their lives? Thats like someone suddenly saying cats should be granted 'evil status' and should all be released and not kept as house pets ... if you've had cats all your life and thats all you know you'd just laugh in their face and probably keep your cat anyway.

    I just think spending time on calling dolphins non-humans is just a waste of time. In no way am I coming to this conclusion on the basis of 'humans are above all'. I just think that if we're going to go all out and invite dolphins to be non-humans for the sake of saving the species, then what about all the other endangered species? The bottom line is that non-human status would make it illegal to keep dolphins as pets/entertainment animals, catch them from the wild, etc. But this should be investigated for ALL animals (tigers, hippos and crocs in zoos) not JUST dolphins!
  16. PetPony

    PetPony Rawr :*

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    Aren't all animals technically non human, because, you know, they're not human? :p
  17. lostbunny

    lostbunny

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    But humans are animals! Now how does that one work! :p :laugh:
  18. bipolarbear123

    bipolarbear123

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    Good points. I think the nonhuman status would help protect them. According to the documentary, the fisherman are not only doing it for money, but "tradition" and food (although, fewer people are buying the dolphin meat because of the high levels of mercury). Another reason Taiji "likes" the dolphin slaughters is because it brings money to their town. Many plans have been proposed to bring in money via tourism, whale watching, etc. instead of selling dolphins.

    I supposed I agree, that the status of other "intelligent" animals should be investigated. I don't really know if scientists are trying to accomplish the nonhuman status for apes or elephants or not; I haven't heard anything about it and, personally, I'm more interested in dolphins anyway, so I wouldn't know. Also, the dolphins are in no way endangered, it's just a gruesome slaughter that continues because people want to see dolphin shows. I'm sure if more people knew what was going on, they wouldn't support the industry. It's hard to ignore those slaughter scenes and not care about it once you have seen them.
  19. lostbunny

    lostbunny

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    Yeah I know those Taiji dolphins aren't endangered, but there *are* species of endangered dolphins.

    Anyways The Cove was definitely an interesting doc that I really don't think I can watch again. Have you seen Shark Water? I highly recommend that one- its really well done and really opened my eyes to issues of conservation from another perspective (the mafia!?) super interesting!

    Okay sharks totally off topic of dolphins- but hey good docco if you liked the Cove.
  20. Minnerbelle

    Minnerbelle Moderator

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    What makes people think that just because some crunchy liberal animal lovers decide to arbitrarily call dolphins 'people' simply because they are intelligent animals, all of the sudden things will change?

    Yes I totally believe that there are differences in what is humane for an animal depending on what species they are, and obviously the more intelligent the animal the more stringent that becomes... But it's a continuum and I firmly believe that it should remain so. The random people vs. non-people thing I think will do a huge disservice to animals. Because that means rather than trying to improve welfare of individual species as appropriate, it's going to end up being some agenda driven campaign to include this species but not others.

    And if we're talking international politics, this is the worst way to go. If it's challenging to convince another culture (that you only know about from one documentary) that welfare concerns should change something that is central to their lifestyle be it dolphins in Taiji or ape bushmeat in Congo ... Try making it about some arbitrary verbiage. The whole 'non-human people' argument rests on humans agreeing that dolphins are indeed people, and anyone who disagrees and treats them as anything else is savage. See how far that'll take you. As much as we love sitting on the computer watching documentaries and wanting to 'help' by still sitting on our computers and coming up with fixes that take no effort on our part because it makes us feel good, the rest of the world doesn't so much.
  21. lostbunny

    lostbunny

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    but really... Shark Water is an awesome docco! :rolleyes:
  22. RadRadTerp

    RadRadTerp VMRCVM c/o 2014

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    Yeah, since none of this matters in the long run, might as well not even try to make any of these situations better. Those silly liberals and their idealism.

    Edit: Yes, that was snarky, and I apologize for getting a bit emotional there, but there are very good legal reasons to confer "rights" upon species. The reason "personhood" matters is because it offers protections to beings who are capable of suffering beyond mere pain. I fully believe that consideration of an animal's ability to "suffer" (although this opens up the discussion to more philosophical ethical considerations) should govern how we treat them. I don't go out of my way to protect the fleas that want to live on my dog, but I have a lot of reservations about dolphins in captivity. Let's not make the slippery slope argument that just because we protect one species of cetacean , all of sudden every animal will get protections. Legislation and government, and especially international agreements, are very slow to enact change.
    Last edited: Mar 27, 2012
  23. Minnerbelle

    Minnerbelle Moderator

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    That is exactly what I'm saying. Welfare for each animal species should be given consideration based on what is appropriate for that animal. I never said that fleas should be treated the same as your dog. I doubt most people around the world feel differently. If it means that it's inhumane for certain cetaceans to be kept in captivity because they suffer from it unlike our canine friends, then they should be afforded that protection. But that would be the reason why, not because we arbitrarily call them 'people.'

    What rights should these non-human "people" get? And who decides? Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness? What does that mean for a dolphin? I feel like whatever you do with this, it will have to be clearly defined under the law if that's where it's going. Cutting to the chase, if it' captivity (of i'm guessing that excludes unreleasable animals) and slaughter that we really want to stop, why not just go straight there? Oh right, it's because that's been too slow or ineffective. My point is that playing around with semantics seems more of a distracter than anything else. Rather than educating and building slowly on consensus of what is humane/inhumane between cultures, I feel like this non-human people thing pretty much is an imposition of certain people's beliefs. Like you say, change is slow. Slavery didn't end overnight in any country (and to an extent is still well and alive elsewhere). I just don't see calling dolphins "people" speeding that up very much. As we have it, we are not allowed to euthanize people due to the sanctity of human life or whatever. Should we not be allowed to euthanize dolphins? Or do we make exceptions with them because that's what's convenient? And if we do add certain primates to this list, do we all give them the same exact rights? Or do we tailor it to each species?

    um, I never said that either. However it's pretty clear that if dolphins were to be added, there are at least a few species of apes that probably should too.

    And FWIW, the crunchy liberal comment was not meant to be derogatory (and sorry if it came off that way). I'm like pretty up there in that realm, to the point where I will only live in areas full of like-minded people. Crunchy liberals are great, and I'm proud to be one. It's a good thing to feel compassionate upon hearing about other people/animal's plights and getting fired up about it. However, many of us get carried away with our ideas all the time as if our point of views are just so progressive and super awesome, that it's the only one that counts. When in reality, sometimes (think prop 8, horse slaughter) what seemed like this beautiful idealism ends up being about "feeling good" in our heads, and not so much about what is realistic. It ends up hurting other people and worse, the very subjects we're trying to help. I personally have to remind myself all the time that how I perceive my views is probably quite aversive to others. And that's all that was. Being totally removed from dolphins in my personal life (even more so than this so called factory farming), I am like the last person who would understand the unintended consequences of those who actually are involved, including the dolphins themselves.
  24. RadRadTerp

    RadRadTerp VMRCVM c/o 2014

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    The whole discussion around the term "personhood" is misleading and I think people are getting confused by its actual meaning in this context. A good part of philosophical identity and ethical theory is centered around that term. It's not related to humanity or our biological species, but has to do with beings worthy of ethical consideration and our laws sometimes revolve around whether something deserves such consideration. It's central to the abortion debate and it appears in some of Peter Singer's writings, if you're interested in the ethics related to our treatment of animals. Perhaps it's because my other major was in philosophy that I don't think the idea of personhood is a distraction.


    P.S. Unless I direct a sentence to a particular "person"/commenter, not all of my statements in a post are specifically-targeted to one individual. Maybe I should add that as disclaimer to all my posts.

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