Thursday, January 21, 2010

Flipper, PhD

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The word "person" has always been synonymous with "human." But if one group of scientists is successful in their quest to grant the status of "non-human personhood" to dolphins, that link might finally be severed. The reason for this sudden status shift? Dolphins have officially been declared the world's second most intelligent creature after humans, finally booting chimps into third once and for all.

Of course, we've always known dolphins were smart. Who hasn't seen Flipper save the day, time and again, with his goofy grin and Kookaburra-like call? (In fact, they actually did use a Kookaburra.) But dolphins are now believed to be so intelligent that the scientists claim we humans have a moral imperative to stop treating them like circus acts, shark bait, and hotdog filler.

Among the more compelling evidence for this are studies proving that dolphins can recognize and inspect themselves in the mirror, engage in group problem solving, learn rudimentary symbol-based language, cooperate with military precision to round up fish, and pass on complex behaviors amongst groups. In one case, a wild dolphin kept in captivity for three weeks was taught to "tail-walk," and after she was released scientists were astonished to see the trick spreading among wild dolphins, who had learnt it from the former captive.

The fact that dolphins have distinct personalities, the ability to think about the future, a sense of self and culture, and complex communication all seem like good reasons not to treat them like garbage. But more importantly, shouldn't it be our "moral imperative" as the most intelligent life form to treat all life with respect and decency?

To do otherwise seems, for lack of a better word, inhuman.

- Brit Trogen

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