India Agrees with Douglas Adams: Dolphins are Intelligent

Dolphins non-human persons

According to the great words of Douglas Adams from Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (you know, the one who solved all our problems to the life, the universe and everything with the number 42), dolphins are actually more intelligent than humans:

“On the planet Earth, man had always assumed that he was more intelligent than dolphins because he had achieved so much – the wheel, New York, wars and so on – whilst all the dolphins had ever done was muck about in the water having a good time. But conversely, the dolphins had always believed that they were far more intelligent than man – for precisely the same reasons. The last ever dolphin message was misinterpreted as a surprisingly sophisticated attempt to do a double-backwards-somersault through a hoop whilst whistling the ‘Star Spangled Banner’, but in fact the message was this: So long and thanks for all the fish.”

Dolphins non-human persons
India grants Dolphins Non-Human Persons Status


India Agrees With Douglas Adams

The best bit of this, is that India agrees. Dolphins have been granted Non-Humans Persons Status by the Indian government; the Indian Minister of the Environment and Forests declared it to be “morally incapable to keep them in captivity.” Dolphin shows, open dolphinariums, have been banned and dolphin parks, many of which are new, will have to close. The Central Animal Authority stated that: “Cetaceans…should be seen as ‘non-human persons’ and as such should have their own specific rights.” Dolphins are cetaceans; this species contains whales and dolphins. Cetaceans have been found to be highly intelligent. Puja Mitra, a leading Indian animal rights activist, has researched the species intensely, focusing on the concept of non-human persons. She introduced it to India and led the change. “This opens up a whole new discourse of ethics in the animal protection movement in India,” she stated, speaking from the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO). Mitra found that dolphins, “share intimate, close bonds with their family groups. They have their own culture, their own hunting practices – even variations in the way they communicate.” Scientists have long suspected that cetaceans, which include dolphins, porpoises and whales, are creatures of high intelligence and emotional empathy. Their research has concluded that cetaceans exhibit complex behaviors that put them on par with human beings and, as such, they deserve to be protected by a bill of rights. Marine Scientist Lori Marino, working separately, has collaborated Mitra’s work, revealing that cetaceans have large brains and complex behavior; they possess advanced, intricate systems of communication and cognition that make them similar to humans and very aware of their captivity. Her work showed that dolphins can recognize their own reflection, use tools and understand abstract concepts. They can even develop unique signature whistles allowing friends and family members to recognize them, similar to the way human beings use names. Marino was a part of a group of scientists who, in 2010, wrote the Declaration of Rights of Cetaceans in which they stated that all cetaceans as persons “have the right to life, liberty and wellbeing.” Research has shown that dolphins and whales have intricate vocal communication. Indeed, they have specific names and use unique whistles to call each other. The specific whistles were recorded and played back to members of a pod and then again for members of another dolphin group. Dolphins have the ability to recognize their own reflections, understand abstract concepts and utilize tools…. Dolphins and Orcas have displayed impressive evidence of organized thought and have been observed caring for an injured member of their pod for as long as a year. They have also been observed aiding fishermen in exchange for a portion of the catch. India is not alone in agreeing with these activists; others have implemented the “law” as well, banning cetacean entertainment in their countries: Costa Rica, Hungary, Chile. In 1993, the United Kingdom, Mexico and Thailand also shut down dolphinariums and made an effort to ban the capture and commercial trade of the sea creatures. Many countries however are far behind this movement.  Japan has over 600 captive dolphins in 65 facilities; the U.S. still has 30 facilities. Dolphins make a lot of profit. And I applaud india all the more foe their decision, as they had many dolphin parks in the works and said no to the profit for the sake of animal rights, which is something I can’t really see the U.S. doing…yet. Activists cry out against this injustice as capturing the dolphins is often “very violent.” Mitra explains how groups of dolphins are driven “into shallow bay areas where young females whose bodies are unmarked and are thought to be suitable for display are removed. The rest are often slaughtered.” The captivity itself is similar to torture: “Orcas and other dolphins navigate by using sonar signals, but in tanks, the reverberations bounce off the walls, causing them immense distress.” The sea creatures will “bang their heads on the walls and orcas wear away their teeth as they pull at bars and bite walls.” The recent movie Blackfish explores this mistreatment and exploitation of Orcas at Sea World. Belinda Wright from the Wildlife Protection Society of India was not very positive when speaking to the press. “I’m very proud that India has done this,” she said. “I’m not trying to be cynical but I have been a conservationist in India for four decades. One gets thrilled with the wording, but I don’t think it’s going to turn to the tables.” I hope she is wrong and that this causes a landslide for animal rights. As a happy puppy owner and great animal fan, I believe highly in the intelligence of animals and hate the cruelty and abuse that abounds; this shouldn’t stop at dolphins. India has taken the first step in establishing a universal code of animal ethics and rights, and I wish that that code will continue to grow as science continues to show us the intelligence and sensitivity of our fellow planet dwellers. Don’t give up Mitra. So, let’s hope Douglas was not more tuned in than we all thought, because personally I would hope there’s more to this world than “42.” (I guess we could relate it to 42, the new film, and probably find some deep meaning about life being about struggle and acceptance, but let’s not go that far.)