The government of India has officially recognized the “personhood” of dolphins, a move that will force the closure of planned dolphin parks across the country.

After Hungary, Costa Rica and Chile, India is now the fourth country in the world to ban the capture and importation of dolphins for commercial entertainment. India’s move is in accordance to the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans conceived by a number of scientists and philosophers, which affords cetaceans (whales, orcas, dolphins, etc.) with the same ethical considerations as human beings.

Choosing to be ethical in the face of great potential profits is an admirable decision, as there were plans for dolphin parks in Mumbai, Delhi and Kochi. Dolphin tanks are now officially illegal in India.

Wild dolphins, New Zealand. Pic: Corscri Daje Tutti (Flickr CC)

A leading Indian voice in the struggle for cetacean rights, Puja Mitra of the Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations (FIAPO), is quoted in a report by Deutsche Welle:

The majority of dolphins and whales in captivity have been sourced through wild captures in Japan, in Taiji, in the Caribbean, in the Solomon Islands and parts of Russia. These captures are very violent. They drive groups of dolphins into shallow bay areas where young females whose bodies are unmarked and are thought to be suitable for display are removed. The rest are often slaughtered.

(See this post for more about the human-related threats that dolphins face.)

It has also recently come to light that, like humans, dolphins have names for each other. Research by St. Andrews University in Scotland shows that dolphins use unique whistles in order to identify members of their pod. Researchers recorded the “name whistles” for members of a dolphin group and then played them back for the group along with other name whistles for dolphins from other pods.

From BBC News:

The researchers found that individuals only responded to their own calls, by sounding their whistle back.

The team believes the dolphins are acting like humans: when they hear their name, they answer.

As scientific findings and a more enlightened attitude towards cetaceans are spreading throughout much of the globe, in Japan the trend is worryingly to the contrary. According to the findings of animal welfare groups Elsa Nature Conservancy and Help Animals, Japan is the world leader in the number of dolphin aquariums and in the amount of captive dolphins in a country. That’s a total of 600 captive dolphins held in 65 different facilities. By comparison the US is home to 30 facilities, but that number has declined by 14 over the past 20 years, which seems to be the general trend on an international level.

From the Japan Times:

The United Kingdom closed all its dolphinariums back in 1993 and more than 23 other nations, including Australia, Mexico, Thailand and Croatia, have either banned the catching or trade of wild dolphins, or keeping them in captivity. This is mainly due to a growing belief that to do so constitutes a form of animal abuse.

Orcas or “killer whales” are also a species of dolphin. The recent documentary “Blackfish” explores the mistreatment and exploitation of Orcas as well as the danger to their handlers in the planet’s most famous marine park, Sea World.

A dolphinarium in Kyoto, Japan. Pic: Antti T. Nissinen (Flickr CC)