Cetaceans, including dophins and whales, are known to play, to communicate using sound, to form groups of affiliation, to help drowning humans, to aid their elderly pod members, and to wage organized war on each other. They even recognize their own faces in mirrors, which means they have a pretty advanced state of self-awareness. But are they people? A group of scientists and ethicists say yes, and that it's time for humans to treat them as such.
A document called the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans, created at a conservation conference in Finland, has been circulating for two years now. And it is gaining more and more traction among scientists.
The declaration, originally agreed in May 2010, contains the statements "every individual cetacean has the right to life", "no cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude, be subject to cruel treatment, or be removed from their natural environment", and "no cetacean is the property of any state, corporation, human group or individual".
It adds: "The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this declaration should be protected under international and domestic law."
A group of zoologists and ethicists discussed this declaration, and its scientific underpinnings, at the recent meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Vancouver this month. Could it be the basis for a new era in human-cetacean relations, in which we approach these creatures as potential equals instead of potential pets? If such a declaration were truly accepted by people in the scientific and political communities, I wonder how long it would be before linguists and anthropologists started trying to translate dolphin and whale languages, and to study their cultures? I hope I see the day when I can use Google Translate to go from English to Pacific Humpback Whale.