It looks like you're using an Ad Blocker.
Please white-list or disable AboveTopSecret.com in your ad-blocking tool.
Some features of ATS will be disabled while you continue to use an ad-blocker.
Perhaps it is time for us to decide that we believe whales and dolphins do have a right to their lives, their liberty and the protection of their home and family
Scientists studying dolphin behavior have suggested they could be the most intelligent creatures on Earth after humans, saying the size of their brains in relation to body size is larger than that of our closest relatives, the chimpanzees, and their behaviors suggest complex intelligence. One scientist said they should therefore be treated as "non-human persons" and granted rights as individuals.
The behavioral studies showed dolphins (especially the bottlenose) have distinct personalities and self-awareness, and they can think about the future. The research also confirmed dolphins have complex social structures, with individuals co-operating to solve difficult problems or to round up shoals of fish to eat, and with new behaviors being passed from one dolphin to another.
New research is showing that whales and dolphins possess intelligence and culture more complex that we had previously assumed, says Margi Prideaux. And, she argues, this raises anew the question of how we should relate to them - including whether it is ever right to hunt them.
Despite long held preconceptions of human pre-eminence, scientists are discovering sophisticated intelligence beyond the boundaries of our own species.
It may surprise us, but dolphins and whales have such qualities.
Will our consideration of whales and dolphins be based on numerical calculations of abundance, or will we recognise them as highly evolved mammals living in complex societies?
The fact that discussion is even taking place indicates we are on the road towards a position of respect.
Many whale and dolphin researchers now agree that they are studying sophisticated, evolved intelligences, born of a differently constructed sense of self; without necessarily needing to be an "intellect" directly comparable to ours.
We now understand that dolphins and whales, in various different ways, have distinct personalities and identities; that they can think about the future, and have the innate ability to learn language.
Much of whale and dolphin behaviour is cultural, learned and passed down through generations.
They have complex decision-making and communications structures, and an independent evolution of social learning and cultural transmission appropriate to the radically different environment they live in.
Blinded by the limits of our own imagination, historically we have found it difficult to envisage another entity with capabilities that rival our own.
It has been our own insecurity that impedes our recognition of the impact of our actions on animals that society could otherwise regard as having moral significance.
In so many ways, they are as complex as we are.
Acknowledging that at least some animals are "beyond use" brings forward implications spanning philosophy, law, science and policy.
However, the evidence suggests that a challenge to the status quo is the next logical step.
No-one is suggesting that whales and dolphins be granted a right to vote, to hold a driver's licence, or to receive a free and fair education.
But in this short half-year we have had enough examples posed to evoke a deep and thoughtful global conversation about our collective moral compasses.
Perhaps it is time for us to decide that we believe whales and dolphins do have a right to their lives, their liberty and the protection of their home and family.
Or will we return to a world that accepts whaling? Will whales and dolphins, like the orca in the US marine park, continue to circle pools for our entertainment?
The choice is ours to make.
Is it possible that 2010 could be remembered as the year when we faced our insecurities and embraced other highly evolved species, with all the responsibility that entails?
This year, which is set to be an eventful one, started with a physical clash between whalers and activists in the Southern Ocean.
Perhaps our unfulfilled anticipation of action on climate change late last year made us reach for progress somewhere else - namely biodiversity.
The confrontation between whalers and campaigners sparked a global debate about how we regard other species on the planet.
In this case, it was asked whether whales and dolphins exist as a resource for humans, or whether they have an inherent right to their life, their liberty and their home.
Meeting of minds
In February, the 2010 Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) addressed the unprecedented subject of "intelligence in dolphins: ethical and policy implications".
A panel of three well-regarded academics discussed whether the emerging scientific knowledge about the cultural and cognitive processes of whales and dolphins should influence international policy decisions and ethical considerations for their treatment.
Their conclusions were that yes, it should.
Within days of the AAAS conference, a veteran animal trainer in the US drowned when a male orca dragged her underwater.
Surprisingly, there was not a media or public outcry against the whale itself.
Instead, attention was focused on the appropriateness of keeping this mighty, complex and intelligent species captive for human entertainment.
In March, the International Whaling Commission (IWC) met to discuss the details of a "deal" about the future of whaling activities.
The global discussion then erupted into sharp debate, with some favouring a return to whaling, and others saying such a precedent should never again be set.
Governments in both camps suddenly found themselves under significant pressure from their constituencies, and the political dance for positions began.
At the same time, The Cove - a documentary investigating the annual slaughter of more than 20,000 dolphins and porpoises around Japan - unexpectedly received the Academy Award for Best Documentary 2010, mainstreaming another example of our need to confront our relationship with these species.
By the end of March, a Los Angeles restaurant was closing its doors as a self-imposed penalty for serving whalemeat.
In late April, an unprecedented US Congressional oversight hearing was held to review the education and conservation value of keeping marine mammals in captivity.
The hearing came about through a convergence of important events, including the orca incident, public uproar about the link between the dolphin drive hunts in Japan and the international zoo and aquaria industry, and a timely regulatory review process.
April also marked the second major oil spill in six months seriously to threaten habitats of whale and dolphin populations in different parts of the world.
Setting the agenda
With four eventful months behind us, we now look towards the IWC meeting in June where governments will formally consider the proposal that could usher in the return to whaling.
This meeting will, in some ways, conclude the six-month conversation and set the tone for our relationship with these animals for decades to come.
We know that they sing, sending musical waves through the deep as they travel in complex family units. We know that they appear stricken with grief when one of them dies. And now we know that the great whales of the world are capable of loving.
A remarkable new study will reveal that whales - hunted for centuries by man, and lauded in ancient literature for their mystical qualities - have the ability to experience love and also deep-rooted emotional suffering.