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.