After weeks of protest against a dolphin park in the state of Kerala and several other marine mammal entertainment facilities which were to be built this year, India has officially recognized dolphins as non-human persons, whose rights to life and liberty must be respected. Dolphin parks that were being built across the country will instead be shut down.
India's Ministry of Environment and Forests has informed state governments to ban dolphinariums and other commercial entertainment that involves the capture and confinement of cetacean species such as orcas and bottlenose dolphins. They issued a statement that said, "research had clearly established cetaceans are highly intelligent and sensitive, and that dolphins "should be seen as 'non-human persons' and as such should have their own specific rights."
India becomes the fourth country in the world to ban the capture and import of cetaceans for the purpose of commercial entertainment - along with Costa Rica, Hungary, and Chile. Three years ago, the movement began to recognize whale and dolphins as individuals with self-awareness and a set of rights. The movement gained momentum in Helsinki, Finland when scientists and ethicists drafted a Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans. "We affirm that all cetaceans as persons have the right to life, liberty and well-being," they wrote.
It has been shown that dolphins can recognize their own reflection, use tools and understand abstract concepts. They develop unique signature whistles allowing friends and family members to recognize them, similar to the way human beings use names. "They share intimate, close bonds with their family groups. They have their own culture, their own hunting practices - even variations in the way they communicate," said FIAPO's (Federation of Indian Animal Protection Organizations) Puja Mitra.
Belinda Wright from the Wildlife Protection Society of India summed the ban up this way,"I hope this will put some energy into India's Action Plan for the Gangetic Dolphin, which is supposed to run until 2020. But there's been very little action."
She added that the ban was a good first stop, but warned against excessive optimism. "I'm very proud that India has done this," she said. "I'm not trying to be cynical but I have been a conservationist in India for four decades. One gets thrilled with the wording, but I don't think it's going to turn to the tables. But dolphins for now are safe from dolphinariums, and that's a good thing."