Non-human Personhood for Whales and Dolphins: Update.


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Latest News – 22/08/2013

India cites dolphin personhood in ban on dolphinaria

In an unprecedented move, the Government of India announced a nationwide ban on dolphinaria, citing dolphin intelligence and sensitivity as part of the reason for their decision and arguing that dolphins should be recognised as non-human persons.

India’s Central Zoo Authority issued a circular announcing the decision of India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests not to allow the establishment of dolphinaria in the country and advising state governments across India to reject any such proposals. The ciruclar states: ‘cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that the unusually high intelligence… means that dolphin 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‘.

As a government that represents nearly one sixth of the world’s population, this affirmation of the unique status of dolphins at the government level is a significant step forward in the campaign to have the rights of whales and dolphins recognised. It is also gratifying to see the argument of non-human personhood being supported by the Central Zoo Authority and being used to effect a positive practical outcome, which will eventually bring an end to dolphin captivity in this vast country.

Why is Australia’s challenge to Japanese ‘scientific whaling’ so unique?

Anyone interested in whale and dolphin issues is unlikely to have missed the fact that the government of Australia has taken the government of Japan to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), to challenge the legitimacy of its so called ‘scientific whaling’ programme in the Southern Ocean.

Beyond the very real need to bring about an end to this sham research and for Japan to abide by the moratorium on commercial whaling, which has been in effect since 1986, there is also something very unique about this case.

Looking back over the history of the ICJ there are very few contentious cases that relate specifically to disputes over  living ‘resources’, or to an individual group of animals, such as whales. There have been cases on nuclear testing, oil platforms, territorial disputes (including disputes over the Antarctic). There have also been many cases about the use of force and other human rights issues, including individual asylum. There have been some fisheries disputes – which are similar to Australia versus Japan in that they relate to another species – but these disputes are about fisheries jurisdiction.  However, there is a fundamental difference between these fisheries cases and the Australian case. The fisheries cases approach the issue on the basis of resource partitioning or jurisdiction.

Australia did not bring this case to argue for a resource that they believe is theirs to use. So what’s the motivation for Australia? Local public pressure, requesting that the government intervene. And why the public pressure if the whales aren’t seen as a resource that could be under threat from scientific whaling or the longer-term threat of commercial whaling?

One answer might be that there is a strong sense among many Australians of having a ‘responsibility to protect’ these whales – whether or not they migrate to the Australian coast. Is it possible that the motivations for this case are utterly unique? That this represents a debate about not just what constitutes science in the modern era, but also represents outreach from a human population towards some other large, long-lived mammals, recognising that they deserve protection and that their lives cannot be tallied up on a chart for blue sky data gathering. The fact that whales are sentient mammals has significant bearing on this action from Australia and this is what makes this case utterly unique within the history of the ICJ.

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Published by Revlang

I am a copywriter and I am committed to making our new technologies understandable to the not-so-very-young generations.

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