Earth Island Institute

ECO: The environmental voice at the IWC

ECO is published by Earth Island Institute’s International Marine Mammal Project at the meeting of the International Whaling Commission on behalf of environmental and animal welfare organizations around the globe.

For further information, please contact: Mark J. Palmer, Associate Director, Earth Island Institute, International Marine Mammal Project.

Previous volumes of ECO are available here.


Volume LXIV · Panama City, Panama · No. 5 · Friday July 6, 2012
Acrobat .pdf of issue

Are Whales People, Too?

Whales are not human, but they could soon be considered people—a legal standing which would put a serious wrench into allocating whaling quotas of any kind.

Last February, the Declaration of Cetacean Rights was presented at the annual American Association for the Advancement of Science. Backed by noted scientists and compassionate members of the public, the landmark declaration argues that whales and dolphins should be accorded basic rights, such as life, liberty and well-being. According to neurobiologist Dr. Lori Marino, “People are taking it seriously,” which is an important first step in seeing the declaration officially recognized.

Personhood status can be ascribed to any being that possesses certain qualities—things like culture, self-awareness, and sophisticated cognitive abilities. These were once thought of as being unique to humans; however, as scientific evidence of these traits in cetaceans continues to mount, the moral obligation for us to recognize their rights as non-human people becomes increasingly pertinent.

The IWC decides how many whales get killed and by who. Rarely, though, do pro-whaling delegations pause to reflect on the moral implications of killing what are increasingly proven as being sentient, intelligent beings. Ascribing personhood for cetaceans represents a significant leap in human sensitivity, a new moral frontier.