Field of Science

Are dolphins the new subhumans?

Reading an article in Science on dolphin brains, Are Dolphins Too Smart for Captivity?, I am glad to finally see someone but myself making the point that the level of sentience is key when deciding how one can deal with other animals. Not the only thing that matters, yet sentience - the ability to feel things - is in my view the most important, simply because hurting is bad for all creatures that feel it. As opposed to plants, which no one (sane) has any problem inflicting damage on for the fear that they would feel pain (though admittedly that doesn't mean I endorse cutting down the rainforest, etc.).
Marino has also teamed with advocacy groups like TerraMar Research, a nonprofit organization based in Seattle, Washington, dedicated to protecting marine wildlife. TerraMar's director, Toni Frohoff, argues that if dolphins are as self-aware as people, they deserve the same basic rights. “The more sentient we see dolphins to be,” she says, “the greater our ethical obligation to them. We can't study them like goldfish or lab rats.”
[Emphasis added.]
And if they really are very sentient, then I agree with Lori Marino that we ought not to keep them in captivity - especially not for entertainment. As I wrote some time ago, perhaps dolphins are the new subhumans?
We don't know for sure, but I think that when dealing with whales and other animals (e.g. elephants and dolphins) that clearly show what we call empathy, sorrow, and compassion in humans, we should assume that they feel it. Otherwise we might make the same mistake as Europeans did with Africans and Native Americans, and end up hurting them to an extent we will come to regret.
Also, for the Faroe Islanders: Pilot Whales are dolphins.

One of Marino's many detractors, Lou Herman, says the following. Please read this carefully and see if you can catch the self-contradiction:
Herman agrees. The godfather of research on dolphin cognition and a contributor to the journal package, he says that the evidence for higher dolphin mortality in captivity versus in the wild is “very, very questionable,” adding that a recent study based on National Marine Fisheries Service data showed no significant difference. “The mortality is horrific in the wild. Fifty percent of wild dolphins bear shark scars—and those are the ones that are still alive.” Marino, he says, reminds him of John Lilly, who eventually railed against captivity as a concentration camp: “Once you mix politics with science, you lose objectivity.”

Herman says he, too, has struggled with the ethics of keeping dolphins in captivity. But he notes that Marino is basing many of her ethical arguments on understanding gained from captive research. “That's the irony of it. How do they know dolphins are intelligent? Because of the captive studies. And now they don't want us to do that research.” Herman says he never could have made his cognitive breakthroughs in the wild. Researchers have to train animals, collect baseline readings, and follow individuals for months or years, he notes: “Science demands controls and replication. What they're proposing is a fantasy.”
Shorter version: When Marino bases her advocacy on science, then she has lost objectivity. When Herman does it by conlcuding that research must go on, then it's fine.

Herman objects that Marino bases her opinion on science (what, pray tell, should she base them on? Faith?). He think it's ironic that Marino's opinion stems from the scientific observation that dolphins are intelligent. What the hell does it matter how it is discovered? Just because it is discovered through science, then this way of doing science is forever safe? That people die when you shoot a bullet through their brains was based on the observation of shooting a bullet through a head... So Herman would label advocacy against shooting people in the head as ironic?

Yes, to do science (though not all science), one has to repeat experiments. But that does not dictate that we must do the science. If we wanted to know what the effect would be putting babies in microwave ovens, then would Herman also say that science demands that we replicate? That line of argument is so asinine that it would never work for experiment with humans, and yet for dolphins it is somehow okay.

So, dolphins researchers are divided on this issue. However, when dolphins are just slaughtered, then at least they can stand together:
Reiss, who continues to work with dolphins in captivity—a position that drove Marino to stop speaking to her in 2009—doesn't support Marino's movement, arguing that there's still value in captive research. But Reiss does think dolphin researchers can find common ground. Now at Hunter College in New York City, she is spearheading a campaign to stop the bloody dolphin hunts in Taiji, Japan, for example. Marino joined this effort, as did scientists on both sides of the captivity debate. Reiss and others who support captive research also believe that many zoos and aquariums should improve their dolphin facilities. Everyone wants the best for these animals, Reiss says: “To me, the biggest thing is to keep the knowledge coming, whether they're in captivity or in the wild.”
And that's a fine thing. Those dolphin killers need to be stopped, and I'm glad to hear that they all agree with that. However, Reiss' comment that the biggest thing is to keep the knowledge coming irrespective of how that knowledge is found is just as asinine as Herman's comment above. Would Reiss think so even if we one day were to - very hypothetically - learn how to communicate with dolphins, and they told us how miserable they are in captivity?

I am not saying I am certain that dolphins are miserable or suffering in captivity. I am merely saying that if they are, then we should stop keeping them.

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