(Yet!) One More Round On The Taiji Cruelty Report

Following the recent release of a paper on the inhumanity of the Taiji dolphin drive hunt (previous here, here, here, and here!), Lori Marino of Emory University voiced strong concerns about the language and approach of the paper, most prominently here.

Lori is as passionate, dedicated, and smart as they come when it comes to advocating for the rights of nonhumans. And she bravely raised completely legitimate points (though I personally did not agree completely with them). But she has reconsidered the sharpness and tone of her response, and has just released an open statement to the report authors:

Note to Self: It’s Not About Us

Open Statement to the authors of the Butterworth et al.(2013) paper: A Veterinary and Behavioral Analysis of Dolphin Killing Methods Currently Used in the “Drive Hunt” in Taiji, Japan

In response to the outpouring of strong reactions to this paper, both negative and positive, I need to say that my own criticisms of the paper reflect a very deep commitment to a particular stance on how we should oppose dolphin exploitation and abuse. They were not meant as a personal attack on the motivations of the authors, and I apologize and take full responsibility for any hurt the tone of my reaction and my comments have caused.

We are all frustrated over the ongoing abuses of dolphins and other animals. And we all have strong opinions about how to bring an end to those abuses. My own view is that a strong rights-based stance is the only one that will lead to real change, and that when we give the impression that we’re endorsing more “humane” ways of killing nonhuman animals, we have stepped over a “line in the sand” with regard to being respectful to the lives of the animals we are setting out to protect.

So I have very real concerns that a paper of this kind can backfire in terms of our goal, despite the good intentions.

More to the point, there is a respectful discussion to be had about these issues, and my reactions to this paper should have been more considerate and constructive.

I hope, in the future, to be able to reach out to my colleagues and friends as we all work to find ways to combat the abuses all around us – abuses that clearly leave deep marks on all of us.

Thank you,

Lori

I personally have no problem with sharp debates over this issue, or any issue. But it is important that debates not undermine the basic collegiality of all who care about dolphin issues, or undermine their ability to work together toward protecting dolphins. So I think this is a classy move on Lori’s part and I hope it succeeds in soothing any hurt feelings or ill will.

Another Round On The Taiji Cruelty Report

..courtesy of Professor Tom White, author of In Defense Of Dolphins, who gets Andrew Revkin of the New York Times to look at the Taiji slaughter from a nonhuman rights point of view:

After I wrote over the weekend about new research on the killing methodemployed in the dolphin roundups undertaken in Taiji, Japan, a fascinating comment on the rights of “nonhuman persons” was posted by Thomas I. White, who is the Conrad N. Hilton Professor in Business Ethics at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles…[snip]

…An issue that quickly comes to mind in considering such questions is where one draws the line in determining how we treat the animals we come across in the wild or rely on — from horses and dogs and cats to the cattle, poultry, pigs and other creatures we grow in order to consume. [11:07 a.m. | Insert | Make sure to look back at Don McNeil’s 2008 piece, “When Human Rights Extend to Nonhumans,” for more.]

Here’s the comment White made, which got Revkin interested in exploring this further:

One of the most important features of science is that major discoveries regularly raise important ethical questions. This is especially true with research about cetaceans, because the discoveries of marine mammal scientists over the last 50 years have made it clear that whales and dolphins share traits once believed to be unique to humans: self-awareness, abstract thought, the ability to solve problems by planning ahead, understanding such linguistically sophisticated concepts as syntax, and the formation of cultural communities. The scientific evidence is so strong for the intellectual and emotional sophistication of dolphins that there simply is no question that they are ‘nonhuman persons’ who deserve respect as individuals.

Anyone who doubts this either is unfamiliar with the data or doesn’t understand the ethical significance of it. Both the killing and captivity of dolphins are ethically indefensible. This is not an emotional claim. It is based on hard science, and distinguished scientists like Lori Marino, Denise Herzing and Hal Whitehead recognize this. It’s important to recognize that facts that we now consider obvious–the Earth moves around the Sun, matter consists of invisible subatomic particles, men and women are equal, to name just three–were all considered ridiculous. Science moves forward by being open to the idea that radical ideas–in this instance, that dolphins ‘count’ as individuals and should be neither killed nor held captive–might just be true.

For a brief explanation of this perspective, see my “Primer on Nonhuman Personhood, Cetacean Rights and ‘Flourishing.’

It’s always refreshing to see such a clear declaration of the moral and scientific case for nonhuman rights. Whatever you might think of the Taiji report, it has generated a lot of worthwhile attention and discussion to the issues of cruelty in the drive hunt, and dolphin rights.

To truly grasp where White and others in this field are coming from, here is a story I did about Denise Herzing and The Wild Dolphin Project. And here is a video about her work with dolphins.