Are dolphins “non-human persons”?

We’ve known for a while that dolphins are smart creatures. Now it appears they’re even smarter than we thought. According to the Times Online, research suggests dolphins have “individual personalities, a strong sense of self, and can think about the future.”

Dolphins can also recognize themselves in a reflection, and have figured out how to use mirrors to inspect body parts. They can learn basic symbol-language and teach other dolphins certain behaviors. All in all, it appears dolphins may be second only to humans when it comes to intelligence and self-awareness:

The researchers argue that their work shows it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in amusement parks or to kill them for food or by accident when fishing. Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.

“Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size,” said Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has used magnetic resonance imaging scans to map the brains of dolphin species and compare them with those of primates.

“The neuroanatomy suggests psychological continuity between humans and dolphins and has profound implications for the ethics of human-dolphin interactions,” she added….

Other research has shown dolphins can solve difficult problems, while those living in the wild co-operate in ways that imply complex social structures and a high level of emotional sophistication.

Based on what we now know, some researchers believe that dolphins should be awarded the status of “non-human persons” to afford them protections beyond those we give other non-humans. It’s an interesting idea, and not automatically objectionable (the scientists aren’t claiming dolphins and humans are somehow equal).

If dolphins are as intelligent and self-aware as they seem, should we change any of our own behaviors in light of that?

 

Zoe Romanowsky

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Zoe Romanowsky is writer, consultant, and coach. Her articles have appeared in "Catholic Digest," "Faith & Family," "National Catholic Register," "Our Sunday Visitor," "Urbanite," "Baltimore Eats," and Godspy.com. Zo

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