Scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons

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(—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 (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.

Several examples of learning being passed on to other individuals have been observed. In one case a rescued dolphin in South Australia, taught to tail-walk during recuperation, in turn taught the trick to other wild dolphins in the Port Adelaide river estuary when she was released. According to Mike Bossley it was "like watching a dance craze take off", with the dolphins apparently learning the trick just for fun, since tail-walking has no natural function.

Work carried out by professor of psychology at the City University of New York, Diana Reiss, showed dolphins could recognize themselves in a mirror, and could use it to inspect other parts of their bodies, an ability previously only demonstrated in humans and a few animals such as apes, elephants and pigs. In another study Reiss was able to teach captive dolphins a rudimentary language based on symbols.

In anatomical studies of the dolphin, zoologist Lori Marino and colleagues from Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia in the US, used MRI () scans to map the brains of dolphins and compare them with the brains of primates. She found the ratio of dolphin brain mass to body size to be second only to the human brain, which means dolphin brains are relatively larger than those of chimpanzees.

The neocortex and cerebral cortex of the bottlenose dolphins were particularly large and the cortex had similar convoluted folds to those found in human brains and strongly associated with intelligence. Cortical folds increase the volume of the cortex and its capacity for interconnections to form. Marino said the findings on anatomy and intelligence of dolphins mean we should re-examine the treatment of dolphins, especially when their treatment results in suffering.

Reiss and Marino say their behavioral and anatomical findings and our new understanding of dolphin intelligence mean it may not be ethical to keep dolphins in aquatic amusement parks for our entertainment, or to kill them for food. Around 300,000 whales, dolphins, and porpoises die each year, with some being killed for food, such as the annual killing of thousands of dolphins and small whales in Taijii, Japan, or even to prove the manhood of those killing them, such as the slaughter of Calderon dolphins at Faroe Island, in Denmark.

Reiss and Marino will present their findings at a conference in San Diego, California next month. Also speaking at the conference will be professor of ethics and business at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, Thomas White, who said the new research adds weight to his ideas that dolphins should be regarded as "non-human persons" with the right to be treated as individuals. White is the author of the book "In Defense of Dolphins".

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Jan 06, 2010
This is interesting, but let's not go way overboard. We don't even treat babies like persons - at least in Canada, a baby is not a person until it is fully and finally born. So let's get our priorities straight.

Jan 06, 2010
Joefarah, you forget. To abortionists logic doesnt apply. I've had arguments with abortionists that insist that animals have rights, but unborn humans are not human so shouldn't have any rights at all.

Its like arguing with certain germans in the 1930-1940's saying jews are human.

Jan 06, 2010
Wild dolphins have been known to rescue people at sea, they undestand something is different about us and they show compassion even when humans have caused them so much death. Even if they only have the IQ of a child is it right to kill them? Science is about learning new things, understanding and useing that knowledge to better ourselves. We stand at the top of the food chain that don't mean we have to kill everything to live or that we have the right to.

Jan 06, 2010
"My dog is smart and I love him so much"?!?! That's easily the most ignorant comment I've heard in weeks!

Nada couldn't have said it better... We've spent over $30 million on Radio Dishes to search for ET life - but god forbid we spend $1500 on a peer-reveiwed study that might change the way we think about intelligent life on our own planet.

Remember, less than 100 years ago people were hanged for saying a black man had rights or was "Human." Let's not forget where we came from... and where we're trying to go.

Jan 06, 2010
Remember, less than 100 years ago people were hanged for saying a black man had rights or was "Human." Let's not forget where we came from... and where we're trying to go.

15 years from now, we will have dolphins harvesting coral on our coral plantations, singing sad dolphin songs.

Jan 06, 2010
The hardware side (brain matter density, size, folds, etc) of judging intelligence is speculative at best. For sure there is some kind of brain size minimum for higher thinking, but making inferences of how intelligent a creature is or isn't based on neural matter - is as silly and outdated as the people that still believe life can only exist in the Goldilocks zone. Btw - many extinct hominid species have massive brain sizes (Neanderthals have a larger fossilized brain cavity than modern humans) and that is why we have so much space junk from all of the satellite launches by ancient hominids ;-)

The researchers need to do more to prove intellectual prowess by testing actual capabilities before making any claims about this species status as a critically thinking biological equal...

And yes I like dolphins too

Jan 06, 2010
I'm not clear on what is meant by been "treated as a non-human person." I hope that doesn't translate on taxes or imprisonment ;-) Now really, chimps, gorillas, crows, African-gray-parrots, pigs, elephants, dogs, and cats and what did i miss? Surely our ethics will need a major revamping before the end of this century!

Jan 06, 2010
There seems to be something fundementally wrong with the notion because x is smarter than y then x should not be killed.

What if some advanced fish developed an underwater city and started targeting humans on the surface with atomic death rays because they were on the loosing end of that equation?

Brain size and folds don't tell the whole story. My understanding from previous articles on the subject is that the sort of mesh level (density interconnections with other nerves) are very important -- perhaps even the most important indicator of intelligence. Looking at size and shape of structures alone is just scratching the surface of this issue.

Jan 06, 2010
@Hernan - It means they will be allowed to vote Democrat.

Ok, that was in poor taste, I just couldn't resist.

I think it is just an "oh, PETA :rolleyes:*" statement. Should dolphins as a sentient organism be given 'special' treatment re: not being killed or eaten? Certainly. Should they be entitled to purchase property and allowed to vote, etc.? Not until we have a consistent method of communication on an everyday level between our species. Is this a societal change that will be accepted around the world? Certainly not. Case in point: apes/chimpanzees are intelligent enough to learn a language (sign language) and communicate with humans; people still eat monkey brains and other bush meat.

Jan 06, 2010
715 years from now, a dolphin will be in the white house.

Jan 06, 2010
Wrote a comment and didn't see it... maybe it was too long. In one sentence: How about we start treating OUR species ethically?

Jan 06, 2010

They've also hearded people towards sharks to distract the sharks from their food sources and hidden young. Don't assume they're entirely altruistic, they do realize that we feed them.

That is a bunch of B.S. Show us some evidence for your claim.

Jan 06, 2010
Dolphins don't know the difference between sand and water. Since so many dolphins beach themselves, they are ignorant of their environment. They have eyes, they can see sand. I think they are not as smart as a dog. Dogs know the difference between sand and water.

Jan 06, 2010
"professor of ethics and business"? This would seem to be a disjoint set...

More to the point:
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./q]
Two problems here:
1) What percentage of that brain is used for sonic signal processing? How much for abstract cognition?
2) The tainting of the observed behavior by the observer's preconceptions, emotions, and other filters make it hard to separate the observer from the observed. This has always been a problem in human anthropology and trying to study a non-human organism provides far worse problems. [/blockquote]

Jan 06, 2010
Dolphins don't know the difference between sand and water. Since so many dolphins beach themselves, they are ignorant of their environment. They have eyes, they can see sand. I think they are not as smart as a dog. Dogs know the difference between sand and water.

I thought dolphins beach themselves to escape brain damage when the Navy sonar throws off their sonar, like whales.

15 years from now, we will have dolphins harvesting coral on our coral plantations, singing sad dolphin songs.

How do we know that's not happening now? The navy uses them for experiments: http://www.essort...rjms.htm

I'm still waiting for that word on how to treat our non-human ET friends.

Jan 06, 2010
To VINDOC, I'm pretty sure that dolphins know the difference between sand and water, not so sure about you though. First of all, some dolphins go into the shallows for a better food source, like any animal or human that takes a risk. Some do well, others pay for it.
Obviously not all dolphins do this for food, some are just stupid like some humans are stupid and decide that jumping into the polar bear habitat at the zoo is okay.
Secondly, dogs know the difference between sand and water too. Dogs are very smart, can learn a variety of commands and tricks, and are generally able to see sand as well as a dolphin. I don't know a thing about how exactly smart dolphins are, but from what I've read, dolphins have better abstract thinking and problem solving skills than dogs.

Jan 07, 2010
Monkeys are able to talk in sign language at the three year old human level. That's been reproduced several times. Nobody has shown dolphins able to do that. And the monkey mother teach their children sign language. So what if dolphins teach each other stupid pet tricks?

Jan 07, 2010
Great.. So now that their huge intelligence have been again confirmed (sort of), somebody please tell this to Japanese people, who are slaughtering them and eating them...

Jan 07, 2010
You mean the fishing villages in Japan that are primarily Korean or the government, which is trying to ban the process.

Let me clarify, to make it simple... Tell it to all those Japanese who are eating dolphins in restaurants or otherwise.
If you cannot stop the industry, you can always try to reason with people..
And government not being able to stop this? You actually believe this?..
A second biggest economy in the world can manage without this disgrace, dont u think so?

And help those villagers to live on pig farms instead..

Jan 07, 2010
No sir. I am sorry, but those are just excuses.. If it is really impossible to compensate for this dolphin food, which I do not believe, than import it...
After all, we are not talking here about feeding 50 million people...

Jan 07, 2010
Many of the comments pro and con are trivial at best. The only way to know if dolphins are intelligent is to continue to research and test. If they are, there is much that could be accomplished through cooperation. Those who would eat an intelligent being will continue regardless of the findings. Pity any intelligent E.T. life we may find..they will want to eat them, too if possible.

Jan 07, 2010
It's strange but this just brought to mind a quote from a movie... I'll paraphrase... an animal doesn't have to prove it has intelligence for me to have compassion for it... Someday we may find ourselves in the position of being treated as less than what we think we deserve, I wonder if those who treat us as lesser beings will have a second thought about whether or not we are intelligent or if it will matter?

Jan 07, 2010
In order to enable Dolphins to defend themselves, we humans should perhaps invent a universal language for them and teach it to as many of them as possible. Then we could say "Dolphins, do not go near Taijii, Japan!"

I suspect that dolphins are the "next most intelligent" animals on the planet, depending of course on what we mean by "intelligent." It is very likely that they have not developed a universal language. Would it not be great to teach them one? Will we regret it?

Jan 07, 2010
Don't dolphins already communicate with each other using sounds? I doubt it's as complex as a full language but i would like to see a study where they actually tried to communicate with dolphins in their own way.

Jan 07, 2010
I can communicate with my dog better than I can with a dolphin. Equal rights for canines! I do detest the homocentric attitudes. Bees are very bright too and much older than humanity.

Jan 07, 2010
It is reassuring that such information can stir such a variety of emotional response. We should review our attitudes toward other creatures, particularly very intelligent animals.

Jan 08, 2010
Look we ARE the second most intelligent species on Earth. The bad news is that you humans are in third place (as many of the above comments so aptly demonstrate). The good news is that you will soon move into the number two spot because we're leaving! Unfortunately, the other bad news is that shortly thereafter the Earth will be demolished to make way for construction of a new hyperspace bypass. Anyway enjoy your brief reign as IQ second bananas and ....

"So Long and Thanks For All The Fish!"

Jan 08, 2010
Call forth your inner Dolphin!


Jan 08, 2010

There are many articles concerning dolphin on human as well as dolphin on dolphin violence out there. There's a reason why people want the practice of "dolphin therapy" banned, and it has nothing to do with exploitation or harming dolphins.

I STILL didn't see anything about Dolphins "herding' people towards sharks.
Of course they are wild animals, and have bitten people. If you were a dolphin, and some guy jumped in the water and started fondling you, you would probably bite him too...

Jan 09, 2010
From the office of the Prime Minister of the Dolphin Nation of the North Atlantic Congress:

Dear Fellow Humans,
On behalf of all dolphins in the oceans of the world, we are ashamed that you would consider calling us "non-human" persons.

We demand a formal apology and 10 million tons of fish as reparations for your comments.

Thank you.

Dolphine XVII
Prime Minister of Dolphinatica
DSNA (Dolphin States of the North Atlantic)

Jan 10, 2010
Great. Now that they're "persons" how do we get them to pay taxes?

Jan 10, 2010
F*#k You Dolphin and Whale!

Jan 10, 2010
Treat them as "non-human persons..."

You mean like we treat Afghanis and Iraqis and Mexicans and Nigerians and Ethiopians and everybody else that doesn't look like us and talk like us?

Jan 10, 2010
Dogs, chimps, pigs, elephants, and now dolphins. It would be so much easier to just bring back cannibalism so we wouldn't have to "profile" our food.

Jan 11, 2010
ignoring all the side bar, I think it is ridiculous to think of them as people. I don't think even the requestor thinks it should be so. It was just a way to catch attention.

I think when Dolphins ask to be let out of parks they should be. If anything the tail walking trick would show that for that individual dolphin his time in captivity was beneficial.

Think of how popular he must be now after showing all the others his trick.

Jan 18, 2010
The piece is error ridden. Firstly, the dolphin's brain has a much lower neural density than humans, only around 25%. That means, to have the same number of neurons as a human, their brain would have to be four times bigger if the dolphin was physically the same size as a human (Dolphins are bigger).

Apart from that, the dolphin brain has far more taken up by the senses due to their use of echolocation etc etc all explained in detail in 'Do Animals Think?' by Clive D.L.Wilson, Princeton University Press, 2004

Jan 18, 2010
Not so fast. That book clearly has an agenda. We don't have a measurement for higher intelligence and perception. All those "smart size" studies are filled with biases as Steven Gould demonstrated with his "brain size" measurements.

Areas that count are more dense:
"A high ratio is necessary for such things as emotional control, objectivity, reality orientation, humor, logically consistent abstract thought, and higher creativity. There seems to be a clear correspondence between the ratio and these abilities. Cetaceans have a ratio that surpasses even the healthiest of humans. This is supported by behavior studies of captured dolphins who show a high amount of playfulness and enjoyment even when in captivity. Humans under such circumstances would not fare quite so well."

More measurements to contemplate:

We don't understand as much as we think we do and should respect all as we would respect ourselves.

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