Dolphins: 'Non-human persons' in India

The Dolphin Island opens on Sept 30; Singapore should learn something from India


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In May this year, India became fourth country in the world after Chile, Hungary and Costa Rica, to not allow the establishment of dolphinariums in the country. It's ministry of environment and forests (MoEF) issued an order to this effect stating, “The cetaceans in general are highly intelligent and sensitive, and various scientists who have researched dolphin behaviour have suggested that they have unusually high intelligence compared to other animals. This means that dolphins should be seen as 'non-human persons' and as such should have their own specific rights. It is thus morally unacceptable to keep them captive for entertainment purpose.”

This widely hailed ban comes after several provincial governments in India had announced plans to establish dolphinariums for commercial dolphin shows, much to the dismay of organisations such as the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organisations (FIAPO), Born Free Foundation, Global Green Grants Fund, Earth Island Institute's Dolphin Project and Wildlife Rescue and Rehabilitation.

After MoEF's decision, these organisations have expressed hope “that this will set a great precedent and lead to such prohibitions in other countries as well”.

International focus

The issue got international attention when, The Cove, a hard hitting investigative journalism film focusing on the capture and slaughter of dolphins in Taiji, Japan, won the academy award for best documentary in 2009. Directed by Lousie Psihoyos, the film-makers went on a covert mission to “uncover how this small seaside village serves as a horrifying microcosm of massive ecological crimes happening worldwide”.

Then in 2012, during the annual meeting of world's largest general scientific society, American Association for the Advancement of Science, held in Canada, experts called on support for a Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans. Researchers argued that although non-humans, dolphins and whales are “persons” in a philosophical sense due to their human-like level of self-awareness.  

Various internationally renowned animal rights advocacy groups such as the Humane Society of the United States, the World Society for the Protection of Animals and No Whales in Captivity, have also been campaigning, researching and documenting the affects of captivity on cetaceans.

Dolphin Island

India's decision is in sharp contrast to the widely-advertised opening of Dolphin Island at the Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa (RWS) on September 30. According to its website, RWS plans to provide visitors “a deeper understanding of marine life, and to discover more about dolphins through 'engagement learning'”.

Still some hope

Meanwhile, some animal rights activists in the city-state have launched “Save the world's saddest dolphins” campaign and have made this passionate plea to all Singaporeans.

“25 bottle-nose dolphins that once roamed free and wild in the vast Pacific Ocean, are now facing a life of captivity, boredom, stress, claustrophobia, frustration and slow death, thanks to RWS, which plans to confine them at their attraction at Sentosa, Singapore. Two of their family have already died during the ordeal. Please help save these remaining animals.”  


 Time to make such pictures history?

Time to make such pictures history?