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India Takes Bold Conservationist Step and Declares Dolphins Non-Human Persons

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Whilst mucking about in the water, dolphins have earned the recognition that they are people too.

The Indian government made history last month by being the first nation in the world to not only recognize the advanced intelligence and self awareness of the playful cetaceans, but also to grant them the protection that goes with being a “Non-Human Person”, namely their freedom and the right not to be held in captivity.

Dolphin India Takes Bold Conservationist Step and Declares Dolphins Non Human Persons

This Gangetic dolphin will now enjoy the same right to freedom that humans enjoy (Image: CAPGD 2010)

While dolphins will not be getting the vote any time soon, the new legislation outlaws ownership of dolphins for personal enjoyment or for entertainment porpoises… sorry, couldn’t resist.

The new legislation was announced by the Ministry of Environment and Forests, headed by Veerappa Moily. The ministry stated that “Dolphins should be seen as non-human persons and as such should have their own specific rights and it is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purposes”.

While this is the first time an animal has been recognized as a Non-Human person, three other countries (Costa Rica, Hungary and Chile) have also banned the use of cetaceans for entertainment. In India, Puja Mitra, a leading Indian animal rights activist, is credited with introducing the concept of non-human persons, an idea that has been gaining steam since a meeting of The American Association of the Advancement in Science in 2011.

The meeting featured a group of philosophers, conservationists, and animal behaviorists who attempted to gain support for a Declaration of Rights for Cetacean, which includes ten rights inspired by the principles of the equal treatment of all persons, including protection of their freedom and the protection of their culture. Many conservationists are also pushing to add the highly intelligent great apes – who have learned to communicate with signs and display an intelligence that has been compared to that of a human child – to the cause as well, granting them the protection of freedom.

DolphinHumanBrain India Takes Bold Conservationist Step and Declares Dolphins Non Human Persons

A dolphins double brain compared to a human brain.

While here in the US it is common knowledge that dolphins are of advanced intelligence, animal rights activists and environmentalists have not made the kind of impact on legislation seen in India. In fact, dolphin shows in the US rake in millions of dollars in revenue, despite the detrimental impact on the animals – or should we say non-human persons –  performing. Research has shown that cetaceans in captivity have half the life span of their counterparts in the wild, and there really is no way to measure the psychological impact of being held in captivity for their entire lives. Having evolved in a vast ocean full of life and color, the world of a captive dolphin is not only significantly smaller than what they would have in the wild, but the constant sounds of the water filters and humans all around leaves them in a loud, empty space.

Dolphins do not just demonstrate the base definition of intelligence, which is the ability to learn, but also a more profound ability to empathize, solve problems, consider complex ideas and socialize like an expert. Let’s not forget to mention the size of a dolphins brain, which resembles two human brains put together. The late Carl Sagan put his view of how intelligent dolphins were rather succinctly when he said ”…while dolphins have come to learn English – up to 50 words used in correct context – no human being has been reported to learn dolphinese.”

With petitions in Canada, and massive protests in Japan to protect both wild dolphins and to shut down dolphin shows, it seems that India will not be the last to give credit where credit is due and try to protect our Non-Human friends of the ocean.


Images: Wikimedia Commons, University of Wisconsin Brain Collection 

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