To say I have a family of animal lovers is to say that the Dalai Lama is a pretty nice guy. For the most part, the animals we love are of the domestic variety (an assortment of cats, dogs, and a rabbit), but we nonetheless extend our love and fascination to animals of all sorts. It wouldn’t be far-fetched to say that we often prefer the company of animals over people.

Which is why we were particularly interested in the recent attempt by scientists to have dolphins declared “non-human persons”. It sounds like a riddle, but it’s really quite serious. According to scientists using MRI technology to scan brain size and shape, dolphins are the second most intelligent creatures on earth. No, chimpanzees are not first, humans are…though it’s harder to believe that following the Copenhagen Conference.

These findings are more than just interesting cocktail chatter though. If dolphins are conferred with this status, it raises questions about how we treat our flippered friends. Which, frankly, isn’t always well.

Consider our water theme parks. There’s something inherently undignified about a dolphin acting like a trained seal (there’s something undignified about a seal acting like a trained seal, too, but that’s another blog…). And, thanks to science, we can now better appreciate that not only is it undignified, it’s…well… inhumane.

While the scientific research surrounding brain size of dolphins is new, the study of dolphins in captivity is not. Naomi Rose, with the Humane Society of the United States, presented a paper six years ago in which she noted that dolphins in captivity have a slightly higher mortality rate over wild dolphins, even though they’re not contending with predators, food shortages, by-catch issues, pollution and other problems of nature.

Why aren’t they thriving in captivity? There seems little answer beyond the stress of captivity. Recent science reveals more clearly dolphins complex and key social structures, which suggests that capture of wild dolphins for zoos creates stress and emotional pain not only for the captured dolphin but for the entire group.

And what about the dolphins that die as a result of by-catch of the fishery industry? Is it easy to overlook when they’re considered non-human persons and we can appreciate them as slightly dumber (or perhaps not dumber at all, depending on your family tree) cousins of ours?

Research often raises more questions – and more complex questions – than it answers. But knowing that dolphins (and also chimpanzees and elephants) are more similar to us than we may have previously understood, creates the need to examine how we treat them and how we treat all animals.

Then again, given how we often treat each other, we clearly still have a lot of learning to do.

Leslie Garrett is a national award-winning journalist, author and editor, based near Toronto, Canada. She is the author of The Virtuous Consumer: Your Essential Shopping Guide for a Better, Kinder, Healthier World and she has also written a dozen children’s books, including a biography of renowned environmentalist David Suzuki and “EarthSmart”, a book for young children on protecting the environment.

Visit: http://www. virtuousconsumer. com/

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