Dear signatories to the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins
We are pleased to be able to bring you an update on a number of activities, from a range of individuals, aimed at spreading the word and furthering the campaign to recognise the rights of whales and dolphins.
AAAS and Whale and Dolphin Rights
In February this year, the world’s largest general science society, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) held a panel during its annual meeting to discuss the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Ethical and Policy Implications.
Arguing the case were philosopher Thomas I White, dolphin brain expert Lori Marino and CEO of WDCS, the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society, Chris Butler-Stroud. The panel argued that whales and dolphins should be considered sentient beings, that they should have their rights recognised and they discussed how this recognition of rights may manifest through attitudes, policy and legislation.
Also discussed were scientific findings such as self-awareness in bottlenose dolphins, the ability of some whale and dolphin species to communicate individually, their sense of community and even the existence of culture in some populations. The gathered scientific audience at the AAAS heard how brain studies can now also be used to substantiate the claim that whales and dolphins qualify as non-human persons.
The argument was made that human is a biological concept, whereas person is a philosophical concept, which can extend (and is already applied) beyond the human species. The presentations provoked much discussion, were well received by this scientific audience and stimulated international media attention for the issue of whale and dolphin rights.
Abstracts for the presentation can be found below:
Lori Marino, Emory University
The Scientific Evidence for Complex Intelligence and Self-Awareness in Cetaceans
Thomas I. White, Loyola Marymount University
The Ethical Implications of Dolphin Intelligence: Dolphins as Nonhuman Persons
Chris Butler-Stroud, Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society
Fostering Moral and Legal Change Toward Cetacean Rights
Are captive orcas slaves?
Many of the signatories to the Declaration would answer yes, on the basis that whales and dolphin have the right not be held captive or in servitude. In February 2012, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) began a court case against SeaWorld in the USA. The case challenged the captivity of five orcas on the grounds that this is an infringement of the 13th Amendment of the United States Constitution which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude.
The case drew a great deal of media attention. However, despite raising the profile of the plight of these captive orcas, there was disagreement amongst the proponents of legal rights for whales and dolphins, particularly in terms of whether there would be more strategic merit in making whale and dolphin rights a State, rather than a Federal issue in the USA.
During the Helsinki Conference, Nicholas Entrup and Margi Prideaux presented the case that whales and dolphins are species which should be considered ‘beyond use’. These ideas have been further developed and presented at a recent conference in Hungary entitled ‘Who has the Right to the World?’.
‘Beyond Use’: Confronting the Sustainably Paradigm
Nicholas Entrup, Shifting Values
Margi Prideaux, Migratory Wildlife Network
Human consciousness is shifting. We now accept that there are limits to what our environment can absorb and despite our long held preconceptions of human pre-eminence, we are gradually recognizing that sophisticated intelligence exists beyond Homo sapiens. This is a realization with profound implications. Such emerging science and philosophy does not fit comfortably into the ‘sustainability paradigm’, the foundation stone of contemporary domestic and international law and policy, which premises all of ‘nature’ as a resource for humans.
As we turn our attention towards the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development (Rio +20) we must be prepared to adjust our philosophy and the legal and policy mechanisms that reflect this philosophy. We must recognize that some of nature is ‘Beyond Use’.
Why Protect Whales and Dolphins?
In response to the need for a central resource to substantiate the campaign for whale and dolphins rights and to reflect upon the changing attitudes towards these species in a range of countries and regions, WDCS launched a new book at the 2011 Cheltenham Science Festival in the UK:
Whales and Dolphins: cognition, culture, conservation and human perceptions, edited by Philippa Brakes and Mark Simmonds, published by Earthscan.
The book brings together a wide range of experts to look again at our current knowledge of these amazing creatures. Jane Goodall, who provided the foreword, describes the book as a ‘clarion call for action’.
What is the Declaration, where does it go from here?
The declaration is a statement of intent and commitment for a brighter future for whales and dolphins, rather than a legal document. The vision is for the declaration itself to evolve as the political and legal hooks for this campaign take effect and become apparent. The declaration that you have signed will always remain intact as a public statement of intent and we urge you to forward the Declaration to friends and colleagues to sign as we continue to use these signatures to levy support from politicians and demonstrate to decision makers the will of public opinion on this important issue.
WDCS acts as the Secretariat for the Helsinki Group, which developed the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans at the Conference in Helsinki on Cetacean Rights: Fostering Moral and Legal Change.
WDCS has recently taken over the full maintenance of the Declaration website. This independent site is currently supported and maintained by WDCS, in collaboration with the Helsinki Group.
As agreed at the time that you signed the Declaration, the names and email addresses collected by the site will be used only for the purposes of furthering the Declaration. Names and email addresses will not be shared with any other parties. These details will be maintained in accordance with UK data protections laws.
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