Dolphin training in the military
Researchers argue that it is morally unacceptable to keep such intelligent animals in captivity or to kill them for food. Dolphins should be treated as “non-human persons” and merit special rights above other animals because they are so bright, scientists claim.
Dolphins have long been recognised as among the most intelligent of animals but many researchers had placed them below chimps, which some studies have found can reach the intelligence levels of three-year-old children.
Now a series of behavioural studies has suggested that dolphins, especially species such as the bottlenose, could be the brighter of the two.
The studies show how dolphins have distinct personalities, a strong sense of self and can think about the future.
It has also become clear that they are “cultural” animals, meaning that new types of behaviour can quickly be picked up by one dolphin from another.
Some 300,000 whales, dolphins and porpoises die in this way each year.
Thomas White, professor of ethics at Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, who has written a series of academic studies suggesting dolphins should have special rights, said: “The scientific research . . . suggests that dolphins are ‘non-human persons’ who qualify for moral standing as individuals.”
His comments were based on research by scientists including Lori Marino, a zoologist at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, who has used magnetic resonance imaging scans to map the brains of dolphin species and compare them with those of primates.
“Many dolphin brains are larger than our own and second in mass only to the human brain when corrected for body size,” she told the Sunday Times.
What Marino and her colleagues found was that the cerebral cortex and neocortex of bottlenose dolphins were so large they “place it second only to the human brain”.