Cetaceans (whales and dolphins) do not recognise our political boundaries, living in ocean basins, seas, coastal areas and some rivers, from the cold waters of the Polar Regions to the tropical waters of the equator. The ubiquitous nature of this often-migratory order of mammals provides a number of unique challenges for identifying national responsibility and jurisdiction for their protection. There are significant, and increasing, anthropogenic pressures upon cetaceans, but a number of domestic and international mechanisms can assist us in ameliorating some of these threats. The political and legislative implications of recognising cetaceans as non-human persons are manifold. Various supranational fora, such as the Convention on Migratory Species (CMS) and the EU Habitats and Species Directive are intended to either protect cetacean populations or avoid exacerbating population declines. However, the formal recognition of cetaceans as non-human persons mandates a new approach, whereby the intrinsic value of the individual is a greater consideration over conservation status. Science should inform political debate and thinking and enable policy decisions. The body of evidence which supports recognising the rights of cetaceans is growing by the month and the number of scientists, lawyers, philosophers and laypeople who agree that these rights exist is growing in tandem. A tipping point is approaching. Rationalising how this will manifest through legal and political structures may be one of the greatest challenges as we work towards a world where the full range of rights enshrined in the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans are realised. There are also some practical challenges associated with conveying the broader implications of these arguments to the public. There is a great deal of ‘baggage’ associated with the term ‘rights’ when used in relation to other species. The fundamental principle of this approach is that it is based on scientific evidence. Whilst it is inevitable that we must consider the implications of recognising cetacean personhood within the context of human political and legal frameworks, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of using humans as the benchmark for intelligence and evolutionary success and in so doing misguidedly sustain the notion of the dominion of humankind. Instead, we should move towards a philosophy of cohabitation with these other ‘people’.
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