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 cetaceanrights.org.