Dolphins have rights, too!

Earlier this year, spurred by proposals to build new marine mammal parks in the country, India’s Ministry of Environment and Forests banned the use of dolphins as public entertainment, citing:

“Cetaceans [dolphins, whales, and porpoises] in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behavior have suggested that their unusually high intelligence as compared to other animals means that dolphins should be seen as “non-human persons” and as such, should have their own specific rights and it is morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purposes.”
– Ministry of Environment and Forests, India

India has a history of making legal commitments to the animal world. In 1976, it not only added an article to its constitution “to protect and improve the environment and to safeguard the forests and wildlife of the country,” but the article also instructed the public to “have compassion for living creatures.” In one court case about the rights of circus animals, the High Court of Kerala said, “If humans are entitled to fundamental rights, why not animals?”

India is the fourth country to ban captive cetacean shows, joining Costa Rica, Hungary, and Chile.

Scientists have studied dolphins extensively and have concluded that they exhibit self-awareness, use tools, cooperate to solve tasks, recognize themselves in mirrors, and even possibly communicate to each other using individual names.

In 2011, the American Association for the Advancement of Science authored a “Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans”:

1. Every individual cetacean has the right to life.
2. No cetacean should be held in captivity or servitude; be subject to cruel treatment; or be removed from their natural environment.
3. All cetaceans have the right to freedom of movement and residence within their natural environment.
4. No cetacean is the property of any State, corporation, human group or individual.
5. Cetaceans have the right to the protection of their natural environment.
6. Cetaceans have the right not to be subject to the disruption of their cultures.
7. The rights, freedoms and norms set forth in this Declaration should be protected under international and domestic law.

“This is a huge win for dolphins,” says Ric O’Barry of the Earth Island Institute’s Dolphin Project. “Not only has the Indian government spoken out against cruelty, they have contributed to an emerging and vital dialogue about the ways we think about dolphins: as thinking, feeling beings rather than pieces of property to make money off of.”

Sign the declaration and join a global call to have rights formally declared for cetaceans at

Leave a comment 5 Comments

  1. Winnie Nielsen says:

    Three cheers for India for leadership on this important issue! All of the issues we have had here in Florida’s Sea World just goes to show you that keeping Killer Whales in captivity is wrong. Totally wrong. And can you blame them for drowning those people? Can you blame them for striking back? Hardly. I hope one day these sort of entertainment places will be banned here in the US along with Greyhound racing and all other means of animal exploitation. Don’t even get me started on Ringling Brothers and their wild animals here in Sarasota! Don’t even begin to justify the whole elephant and tiger thing as somehow OK.

  2. My half-sister is a marine biologist for NOAA and her specialty is Blue Whales. There are so few left in the world that they are named and she knows them all by name as well. She would be thrilled to read this declaration of rights, which I am sure she is aware of. And my family will totally agree with this understanding of Cetaceans and their emotions and intelligence.

  3. Deborah-Anne Caramico says:

    I am very moved by this article & the movement it is about. I have always been drawn to want to be around these creatures. I am glad that they are being recognized (finally) as sentient beings, that has always been a feeling deep in my soul.

  4. Connie-killarney says:

    Ditto Winnie!!!

  5. Donna Kozak says:

    Okay, sooo now what is India doing about the treatment of elephants ? It is sad and very shameful how these intelligent animals are subjected to much cruelty throughout the world – by the way, my husband just informed me that today is National Elephant Day !! He just heard it on our local radio station (we live in British Columbia, Canada).

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