A session on cetaceans at the AAAS meeting discussed a proposal that whales and dolphins, too, should have rights. The suggestion of the speakers was that the protections these species are afforded by human laws should be extended and recognised not as an indulgence of the human aristocracy towards the bestial peasantry, but as a right as natural as those which humans now afford, in the more civilised parts of the world, to themselves. (via Animal rights: Whales are people, too | The Economist)
Animal rights: Whales are people, too | The Economist
Alrighty, I’ve written before on animal rights (just click the tag below), even though I don’t think we’ve gotten that far already, but this is just too much.
The proposition that whales have rights is founded on the idea that they have a high degree of intelligence, and also have self-awareness of the sort that humans do. That is a controversial suggestion, but there is evidence to support it. Lori Marino of Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, reviewed this evidence. (..)
Whales and dolphins have complex cultures, too, which vary from group to group within a species. The way they hunt, the repertoire of vocal signals and even their use of tools differs from pod to pod. They also seem to have an awareness of themselves as individuals. At least some can, for example, recognise themselves in a mirror—a trick that humans, great apes and elephants can manage, but most other species cannot. (..)
Dr White is a philosopher, and he sought to establish the idea that a person need not be human. In philosophy, he told the meeting, a person is a being with special characteristics who deserves special treatment as a result of those characteristics. In principle, other species can qualify. For the reasons outlined by Dr Marino, he claimed, cetaceans do indeed count as persons and therefore have moral rights—though ones appropriate to their species, which may therefore differ from those that would be accorded a human (for example, the right not to be removed from their natural environment). (..) Mr Butler-Stroud showed how the language used by international bodies concerned with these animals is changing. The term “stocks”, for example, with its implication that whales and dolphins are a resource suitable for exploitation, is being overtaken by “populations”, a word that is also applied to people.
Here’s what they wrote about chimps, a couple of years ago:
Most of the time, the Ngogo chimps were anything but model soldiers—squabbling, foraging and lolling about their domain. But on 114 occasions Dr Mitani’s colleague Sylvia Amsler watched large groups of males strike out on silent, single-file patrols to the fringes of their territory.
To understand what motivated this violence, the researchers looked at which chimps were actually attacked. If the purpose of chimpanzee warfare were either rape or the abduction of mates, then the expectation would be that adult males would be the targets of lethal violence. On occasion, they were. But most victims were juveniles, and of both sexes.
Furthermore, chimpanzee mothers were often beaten as the raiders snatched and killed their offspring. Though these assaults on mothers were rarely lethal, patrolling chimps were clearly more likely to batter females than recruit them as mates, suggesting that other motives might drive their violent behaviour.
The researchers therefore asked whether geography offered a better explanation. (..) By the time the study ended, the Ngogo group’s campaign had displaced its rivals completely, annexing the north-eastern lands and enlarging its range by 22%.
Though the territorial upgrade may eventually attract new mates, none of the displaced females has been spotted joining the Ngogo group. This suggests that real estate, not a tight mating market, is the true motive for chimp combat. Such motivation makes sense in the context of the discovery in 2004, by Jennifer Williams of the University of Minnesota, that larger territories enabled chimps in neighbouring Tanzania to produce more offspring. This provides an evolutionary incentive for the apes to expand their range—and its associated resources—by any means necessary.
The rate of killing Dr Mitani reports is between one-and-a-half and five times that seen in human agricultural societies—and between five and 17 times higher than attrition due to warfare among hunter-gatherers, who could have less need to defend territory than farmers.
By identifying the areas most in need of protection, researchers hope to preserve the culture of chimp communities such as the Ngogo for future study.
I for one salute our new chimp/whale overlords