R.M.Alger

Dolphins as “Non-Human Persons”

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Some scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons:

(PhysOrg.com) -- 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.

So I suppose that when a dolphin kills another dolphin (which happens all the time), the murderous dolphin will be charged with a crime. Remember, having “rights” means being accountable for one’s actions.

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.

The source I linked to does not quote any specific behavioral studies; all I can tell you is that many animals show “distinct personalities” and certain levels of “self-awareness.” As for those “complex social structures”: they can exist even in very primitive animals, and are very common among higher mammals. crows, lions, meercats, apes, elephants, and dozens of other species are all capable of “complex social interaction.” Oh, and if dolphins where truly able to organize, communicate, and adapt, why don’t they avoid the Japanese coves where they are slaughtered each year?

In anatomical studies of the dolphin, zoologist Lori Marino and colleagues from Emory University, Atlanta, Georgia in the US, used MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) 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 brain anatomy and intelligence of dolphins mean we should re-examine the treatment of dolphins, especially when their treatment results in suffering.

Even the casual research I did after I read this reveals that this information is painfully out-of-context. If you care, you might want to ask: What is the relationship between a species brain size and intelligence? What parts of the brain are developed? Who conducts the research and what does that research actually say? And what are the definitions of intelligence used?

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".

Those silly new age gurus aside (who are, for whatever reason, obsessed with dolphins) I can respect people who want to see an end to animal suffering. But in defending animals, they twist and abuse the term “rights”, which I cannot stand for.

If you’re interested, there is a good debate on the subject over at Opposing Views. Tibor Machan first response is particularly good.

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Some scientists say dolphins should be treated as non-human persons ...

[...]

If you’re interested, there is a good debate on the subject over at Opposing Views[ Tibor Machan is particularly good.

Central Nervous System of the Porpoise tursiops truncatus

Author(s): Orthello R. Langworthy

Source: Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 12, No. 4 (Nov., 1931), pp. 381-389

Tursiops as an Experimental Subject

Author(s): Barbara Lawrence and William E. Schevill

Source: Journal of Mammalogy, Vol. 35, No. 2 (May, 1954), pp. 225-232

An Experimental Demonstration of Echo-Location Behavior in the Porpoise, Tursiops

truncatus (Montagu)

Author(s): Kenneth S. Norris, John H. Prescott, Paul V. Asa-Dorian, Paul Perkins

Source: Biological Bulletin, Vol. 120, No. 2 (Apr., 1961), pp. 163-176

Sea Intelligence: The Dolphin Barbara Tufty

The Science News-Letter, Vol. 86, No. 9 (Aug. 29, 1964), pp. 138-139

Two Levels of Alliance Formation Among Male Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops sp.)

Author(s): Richard C. Connor, Rachel A. Smolker, Andrew F. Richards

Source: Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America,

Vol. 89, No. 3 (Feb. 1, 1992), pp. 987-990

Behavioral Development in Wild Bottlenose Dolphin Newborns (Tursiops sp.)

Author(s): Janet Mann and Barbara Smuts

Source: Behaviour, Vol. 136, No. 5 (Jun., 1999), pp. 529-566

Alliance Membership and Kinship in Wild Male Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) of

Southeastern Australia

Author(s): Luciana M. Moller, Luciano B. Beheregaray, Robert G. Harcourt, Michael Krutzen

Source: Proceedings: Biological Sciences, Vol. 268, No. 1479 (Sep. 22, 2001), pp. 1941-1947

A Division of Labour with Role Specialization in Group-Hunting Bottlenose Dolphins (Tursiops

truncatus) off Cedar Key, Florida

Author(s): Stefanie K. Gazda, Richard C. Connor, Robert K. Edgar, Frank Cox

Source: Proceedings: Biological Sciences, Vol. 272, No. 1559 (Jan. 22, 2005), pp. 135-140

See, the problem with dolphins is that they communicate among themselves at ranges that we do not hear, so we have to transduce their vocalizations, or else get them to respond to our preferred ranges, like getting the piccolo to play with the double bass. This is as close as we have come to communicating with an alien species. Given that, the facts are fairly well established. The above citations are from the mainstream of academic research, all peer-reviewed and conservative and nonetheless compelling.

Long ago, when asked if Martians could have rights, Nathaniel Branden pointed out that any rational creature, any volitional being, regardless of their specific modes of perception, would have rights, given that they met the criteria for free will and reason.

Whether dolphins -- whales, simians of this or that species, etc., etc., -- meet those standards requires first defining the criteria and then establishing the tests for them. Arguing post hoc does not establish empirical evidence.

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See, the problem with dolphins is that they communicate among themselves at ranges that we do not hear, so we have to transduce their vocalizations, or else get them to respond to our preferred ranges, like getting the piccolo to play with the double bass.

"See" what in contrast to what? Why is this a "problem with dolphins"? Who has "problems" with dolphins? Many creatures, including ants, "communicate" at frequencies and by means we don't, sometimes with acoustic detection sensitivities we don't naturally have. Humans have scientific instruments that do detect the signals. There are interesting methods of physical measurement for signal detection and inferences for the relevance to other creatures, but what is that supposed to have to do with "rights"? What does any of this have to do with piccolos and the bass, both of which we can hear and which have nothing to do with rights?

This is as close as we have come to communicating with an alien species.

Dolphins are a long way from "alien species"; they live here naturally on earth and are not arriving in space ships. What do "alien species" have to do with it?

Given that, the facts are fairly well established. The above citations are from the mainstream of academic research, all peer-reviewed and conservative and nonetheless compelling.

What facts? Compelling for what and how? What is the relevance to "rights"?

Long ago, when asked if Martians could have rights, Nathaniel Branden pointed out that any rational creature, any volitional being, regardless of their specific modes of perception, would have rights, given that they met the criteria for free will and reason.

Nathaniel Branden is an authority? For what? What exactly did he say is "the criteria for free will and reason" and what does what argument have to do with "rights" of dolphins?

Whether dolphins -- whales, simians of this or that species, etc., etc., -- meet those standards requires first defining the criteria and then establishing the tests for them. Arguing post hoc does not establish empirical evidence.

The "criteria" for rights are already established. What "post hoc" argument for what? If someone claims that some species has rights then the burden of proof is on him to establish it.

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