The Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans is definitely a step in a right direction and should only be encouraged and reinforced even further. If you have not done so, please sign it here. During recent Annual Meeting of AAAS the panel discussion took place that discussed “Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Ethical and Policy Implications of Intelligence” (read abstracts here). The major notions based on significant body of research indicating that:
1. Cetaceans have advanced cognitive abilities (“problem-solving, artificial “language” comprehension, and complex social behavior”)
2. Have sophisticated and important culture
3. Complex social dynamics
4. Social intelligence that is important for survival in hostile environments like oceans.
The panel discussed how important it is to recognize this discrepancy about what research shows and how cetaceans are treated around the world (i.e. slaughter and captivity).
And yet, one area, the treatment of stranded whales and dolphins, once again is somewhere below the radar. We would like to argue that because cetaceans are advanced beings and should not be slaughtered, by the same logic they should not be denied rescue, medical attention and should not be brutally euthanized once stranded. Furthermore, we encourage the authors of the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans to add a specific clause for stranded whales and dolphins.
If you are not aware of the problem, here is a brief overview. Stranded alive whales and dolphins are treated horribly all over the world. Because nobody keeps a count, we can only roughly estimate the number of stranded alive cetaceans worldwide and can say that numbers are significant and deserve immediate attention. Stranded alive cetaceans are treated like they are terminally ill and all recent research is disregarded, specifically research that indicates that not only many are healthy and can survive strandings, but that they can also survive and thrive in a long term as well.
Strandings are not counted, they are not investigated, and the minuscule data
that exists is not freely available for the public. The bottom line is stranded whales and dolphins have no rights and are at the mercy of responding officials and rescues that are desensitized to the point that euthanasia is not a big deal for them.
Even if a stranded whale or dolphin is sick (which is indeed a case in some strandings) there is absolutely no excuse to deny rehab and rescue, why do we even have veterinarians? Amazingly, developed countries like UK, Australia, NZ, etc do not have a single rehab facility where a sick whale or a dolphin can go for treatment. Not only they do not have such facilities, but they also strongly oppose even a discussion about the need for such facilities. Thus whales and dolphins are euthanized because there is no where for them to go for temporal rehab and eventual release back to the wild. The same happens with cetacean orphans (read our blog about cetacean orphans here).
So here are some unsettling questions we would like to pose (questions are accompanied by some disturbing and graphic material, but as Ms. Wylert said “We must not refuse to see with our eyes what they must endure with their bodies”):
1. How ethical is it to euthanize stranded whale or dolphin if diagnosis is difficult, prognosis is unknown, possibility of survival is present and most importantly, the reason for stranding is not known?
2. If a whale is a sentient being with advanced intelligence and self-awareness how humane and ethical is it to detonate explosives placed on his head while he is still alive? (video)
3. If a whale is a sentient being how ethical and humane is it to leave him on a sand bar for two weeks because he is “too sick to be rescued”? (article)
4. If a whale is a sentient being, how ethical it is to cut its throat and leave him to bleed? (video)
5. How ethical it is to shoot a whole pod of pilot whales in a head at close range, silencing their screams one by one? (article)
And the list goes on and on. Keep in mind, these atrocities were committed under completely FALSE premise that these animals were ill or beyond any help. In fact in any of these cases, nobody knew why stranding occurred.
So, why stranded whales and dolphins have no rights? Because they are forgotten victims that are under the radar most of the time and also because mindless propaganda perpetuated by rescues and officials that whales and dolphins “strand for the reason” and are “sick”. But when you ask them what was the exact reason for the stranding you will get 20+ possible reasons and obligatory mention of “mystery”. And when you ask what is the nature of sickness, prognosis and treatment, they will also tell you that they are not sure and need a necropsy. And even with the necropsy, the majority of cases do not yield to definite conclusion or 100% inability to survive if given an option.
The bottom line is:
We do not know what exactly is wrong, or why whales and dolphins strand, yet have no problems with euthanizing them, with denying rescue and rehab, with operating largely on untested assumptions, even when scientific research indicates opposite.
Because of all of the above, stranded cetaceans need a special clause in the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans because they are the most forgotten population of cetaceans and because of great deal of suffering these sentient beings have to endure because of our ignorance, indifference and acceptance of what we are told by “experts”.