Saturday, July 10, 2010

What does it take?

". . .maybe we shouldn't talk about what we're harvesting or harpooning, but whom." -- Whales: once mercilessly hunted all over the world, and now increasingly regarded as second only to humans "in mental, social and behavioral complexity."

Writing after the International Whaling Commission's annual meeting, Natalie Angier reported in the June 27 NYTimes that its 24-year ban on commercial whaling is still intact (despite loopholes she described as "leviathan" in size.)

Some scientists who study whales are pushing for abolishment of commercial whale and dolphin hunting altogether -- they argue that hunting whales is in line with hunting chimps, whom we now know are very, very close to humans. Possibly even closer -- when relative brain size or levels of self-awareness, sociality and the importance of culture are considered -- are whales.

"They fit the philosophical definition of personhood," one biologist concludes. Another says "cetaceans seem like intelligent aliens living among us."

The Times article is incredible, detailing as it does the behaviors of whales and dolphins in their watery world. Their lives and habitat are so different from ours, yet no less complicated, calling for no fewer skills.

In 1851, Herman Melville's Moby Dick was published. Now, finally, in 2010, whales are being called "Brainiacs beneath the waves" and regarded with awe by those beginning to understand and appreciate them.

Is that how long it may take for the beginnings of human respect toward other animals, now hunted, factory farmed, used in laboratories, skinned alive and otherwise tortured and killed? Will it be necessary for them to evidence great brain power and human-like traits to win respect?

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