India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests has decided to forbid the keeping of captive dolphins for public entertainment anywhere in the country.
In a policy statement released Friday, the ministry advised state governments to reject any proposal to establish a dolphinarium “by any person / persons, organizations, government agencies, private or public enterprises that involves import, capture of cetacean species to establish for commercial entertainment, private or public exhibition and interaction purposes whatsoever.”
“Whereas cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence; as compared to other animals means that dolphins should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights and is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose,” the ministry said.
I was surprised to read about this the other night, since it happened back in May and somehow escaped worldwide attention and the 24 hour media hoopla. The effort to re-categorize Cetaceans (dolphins, whales, porpoises) as non-human persons has been gathering steam since a meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2011 where a group of philosophers, conservationists, and animal behaviorists attempted to gather wide support for a Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans from the scientific community.
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.
And what does it mean to say an animal has “rights”?
Unlike[…] positive rights, such as the ‘right’ to education or health care, the animal right is, at bottom, a right to be left alone. It does not call for government to tax us in order to provide animals with food, shelter, and veterinary care. It only requires us to stop killing them and making them suffer.
Seems reasonable enough. Considering dolphin intelligence has been long been established, this declaration doesn’t seem to be a particularly radical move. They exhibit self-awareness, use tools, cooperate to solve tasks, don’t vote Republican, and very recently it was found that they possibly communicate to each other using individual names. The major real world implications of declaring them non-human persons would be the closing of dolphin and orca shows at marine parks, setting them free from aquariums and zoos, and a prohibition against kills, such as the one documented in Academy Award winning movie The Cove.
Of course, the biggest implication is the whole idea of creating a new category of non-human persons. Do we stop at dolphins and whales? And, if not, where do we draw the line? Once we give rights to some animals how do we justify our continued exploitation of others?