Scientists And Discoveries
Bottlenose Dolphin - Tursiops truncatus A dolphin surfs the wake of a research boat...

Scientists say Dolphins Deserve Human Rights

Bottlenose Dolphin - Tursiops truncatus A dolphin surfs the wake of a research boat...
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"Scientists say Dolphins Deserve Human Rights"
Caption: Bottlenose Dolphin - Tursiops truncatus A dolphin surfs the wake of a research boat...
Image by: NASA
© This file is in the public domain because it was created by NASA.

Following many years of intense research and observation, researchers have arrived at the inescapable conclusion that dolphins possess intelligence almost the equivalent of human beings and emotional IQs higher than most people.

In fact, say scientists, dolphins are the equal of people in the philosophical sense and, as such, should ethically be recognized as having the same basic rights as humans. A "Declaration of Independence" for the dolphin species is required.

The amazing pronouncement followed by scientific testimony that dolphins are like an intelligent 'alien' species on Earth and that dolphins have their own intricate language called "dolphinese," came at the annual gathering of the American Association for the Advancement of Science—the largest scientific conference in the world.

An attendee at the conference, ethic professor Tom White from Loyola Marymount University, told the BBC that, "Science has shown that individuality—consciousness, self-awareness—is no longer a unique human property. That poses all kinds of challenges."

Among those challenges is this: what other species beside Man truly deserves unalienable rights?

Research, claim the scientists, shows that dolphins certainly qualify for the rights that most would call "basic human rights."

That dolphins form families, have a society and culture, cognitive thought, a language and self-awareness goes a long way towards supporting the argument that humans should recognize the species rights. Recently, it was discovered that dolphins even have individual names for themselves and recognize each individual as a unique "person."

The BBC also reports that Emory University psychologist, Dr. Lori Marino described how science's perception of dolphin intelligence and the cetacean's physical brain has changed over the decades. "We went from seeing the dolphin/whale brain as being a giant amorphous blob that doesn't carry a lot of intelligence and complexity to not only being an enormous brain but an enormous brain with an enormous amount of complexity, and a complexity that rivals our own," she said.

Marino added that dolphins also recognize themselves in mirrors—a trait shared by all humans, but very few animals except those of a general higher order, or exceptionally smart individual animals.

While other animals have stood out as geniuses within their own species, like the famous gray parrot Alex that had an extensive vocabulary and even invented new words, few animal species equal the social order, organization, self-awareness and creativity of humans. Several of the great ape species fall into that category, but even they are steps below the general intelligence level of the dolphin.

Cracking the dolphin language

Few researchers doubt that dolphins have a high order, complex language that may even equal human languages.

Brilliant researchers Denise Herzing, the founder of the Wild Dolphin Project located in Jupiter, Florida, and Thad Starner, an artificial intelligence (AI) expert on the faculty at Georgia Tech, have developed a new concept designed to breakthrough the species language barrier and establish real communication with other intelligent beings, namely the dolphins.

Although dolphins do comprehend human language to a point—some can grasp more than 100 words, follow human orders, and even use communication devices—no real significant break through in communications has yet been achieved.

New Scientist reports the two scientist's project—the Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT)—centers around a revolutionary prototype communications device designed to create a common language that both dolphins and humans can employ as a linguistic interface.

As Denise Herzing explained to New Scientist "They [humans] create a system and expect the dolphins to learn it, and they do, but the dolphins are not empowered to use the system to request things from the humans." CHAT is designed to bridge that gap.

Dolphins and humans: a relationship that goes back millennia

The friendship between dolphins and humans extends back thousands of years. Greek fisherman told tales of how dolphins would come out to greet them and some shared incidents of the pleasant sea creatures rushing to save humans in trouble.

Scores of swimmers have been saved from drowning by a helpful dolphin appearing on the scene. Other swimmers. under attack by hungry sharks have been rescued by dolphins driving off the deadly predators…and then staying with the person until sure they were safe.

Dolphins have had a symbiotic and synergistic relationship with humans for thousands of years. Like dogs, they seem to be a natural friend to Man. Unlike dogs, dolphins are much, much smarter.

Potential leap ahead for inter-species communication

Working out of her Jupiter, Florida base, Herzing has spent much of her life with dolphins. A member of the Wild Dolphin Project for 25 years, she's studied their habits and habitats longer than most other researchers. She knows dolphin's individual characters and personalities—traits she says that are much like humans.

If her newest project, a giant leap ahead for inter-species socialization—it might lead to the creation of the world's first inter-species dictionary and even pave the way for learning about each others cultures and world views.

And that would be fascinating for both species as Man is land-based while dolphins spend their lives in the sea.

Other animals may deserve limited rights

While many scientists support the concept of dolphin rights, some go farther. A contingent of researchers at the conference declared their support for rights to be extended to whales, certain apes…even elephants.

The scientists argue that the rights should provide for a special class of protection and that those "non-human" persons are guaranteed to live freely and peacefully.

Thus it may come to pass that "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [fill in the species] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

More about this author: Terrence Aym

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