Animal World
“In Defense of Dolphins”:Interview with Dr. Thomas White      
Welcome, enlightened viewers to Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. For thousands of years, dolphins have been known as some of wittiest, most sensitive mammals on Earth. In Western culture, references to dolphins first appear in Greek mythology as helpers of humankind, for example, when rescuing the poet Arion from drowning and carrying him safely back to land.

Along with whales and porpoises, dolphins form the order Cetacea. They live in complex social groups called “pods.” For Bottlenose dolphins, the average pod size is seven members. To date, 33 species of these awe-inspiring ocean dwellers have been identified around the world, and scientists have found that some have a brain-to-body-mass ratio greater than or equal to that of humans.

When you look at dolphins, a much older species, you realize that they basically came up with a solution for the long-term survivability of their species. You have a big brain, a being in the ocean who doesn't over populate, doesn't go to war with one another.

Dr. Thomas White is a professor of business ethics and director of the Center for Ethics and Business at Loyola Marymount University, USA, a Fellow of the Oxford Centre for Animal Ethics, and a scientific advisor to the non-profit research organization the Wild Dolphin Project. He is also the author of the thoughtful book, “In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier,” and today on our program, he discusses his recent research on the intriguing world of dolphins and presents his philosophical perspective, which calls for regarding them as “non-human persons” due to their intellectual and emotional sophistication.

My PhD is in philosophy and I specialized for 20 years in 16th century Renaissance humanism. I had done a short ethics textbook for Prentice Hall.

They asked me if I would then do one of these big introductory textbooks, but they wanted the chapters to be structured so that I started with a non-philosophical discipline and ended up talking about philosophy. Well, I grew up in Massachusetts (USA) by the water, and you always heard interesting stories about dolphins. And as I’m trying to figure out how to do a chapter that somehow involves biology, I came up with the idea of looking at the most recent research on dolphin intelligence and the like, and pairing that with the philosophical question of what it means to be a person.

Among philosophers the concept of personhood is different from what it is to be a human. In ordinary parlance we use “human” and “person” interchangeably. But among philosophers, to be a person, no matter what the species, is to have traits that we’ve always said are unique to humans alone: self awareness, a sense of time, a sense of personality, emotions, individuality, uniqueness, higher order intellectual abilities and the like. And to be any being that would have those abilities, no matter what the species, a philosopher would say, “Wouldn’t that be a non-human person?”

Over the years, countless studies on the behavior of dolphin have shown that they have many characteristics in common with humans.

One of the most fundamental traits that you see in humans and dolphins and chimps, for example, as scientists will talk about it, is our ability to be aware and have an inner world, to be self aware.

Dolphins are incredibly attentive, and possess an innate tendency to care for the well-being and safety of other species. For example, in December 2008, after his small boat capsized in Puerto Princesa Bay in the Philippines, a man was assisted by some 30 dolphins and two whales. They gently nudged the small Styrofoam board he was floating on toward shore. Two other dolphins also swam alongside the man to accompany him until he reached safety.

When you look at the scientific research over the last 30 and 40 years, and you look at the research of probably more than 20 different scientists, the variety of intellectual and emotional abilities that dolphins have I would say qualify them as being non-human persons. In many ways they are remarkably similar to us.

Like humans, dolphins are highly social beings and love to play by rubbing, petting and swimming together with their friends; dolphins have even been seen rubbing one another’s pectoral fins in a gesture similar to the human handshake. Dolphins are known to be very talkative and communicate to other members of their pod through whistles and clicks. Non-verbal communication is also used. For example, to ask her baby to stop doing something, a mother will nod her head up and down.

They are communicating in some sophisticated way.

The clicks are mainly echolocation. It’s a way that they scope out their world, a sort of sonar. They have whistles, they also probably communicate through touch, gesture. There’s been very impressive research on the abilities of some dolphins to understand human language, and artificial human languages. Their brains wouldn’t be able to do that unless the capacity were already there to handle symbolic representation and communication in some way.

When we return, Dr. White will share more of his fascinating findings and insights on the deep blue world of dolphins. Please stay tuned to Supreme Master Television.

In this area in the Bahamas, there's a community of Bottlenose, who come and go, and they interact with the Spotteds (dolphins). There are instances where the Bottlenose will babysit for the Spotteds, and maybe vice versa. So there are mutual living and cooperation going on there.

Most importantly, is that we as humans have to give up the claim that we're the only beings on the planet who count, that we get to set all of the rules, and that’s the first thing that we have to do.

Welcome back to Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants as Dr. Thomas White, author of the insightful book “In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier,” discusses his recent findings on the intriguing world of dolphins. Through firsthand interactions with these wonderful marine beings in the Bahamas, Dr. White became enthralled by the uniqueness of each dolphin.

It's a fascinating experience. They have this tremendous sense of power to their personalities.

Some are inquisitive, some like to work, some don't, some like to swim with humans, and some don't. In the Bahamas there are dolphins who like to interact with humans, there are ones that don't, there are some that like engage us in some kind of socialization. Others don't. So it's like with human beings, you can sense certain aspects of what someone's personality is like.

Of course, that's also true with dogs and cats. There are individual differences; there are personalities. So, again there are lots of things out there that we've always thought are unique to us that tend to be much more widely spread in the world of nature.

One of the greatest dolphin scientists I knew, Ken Norris, who was legendary in the field, remarked to me one time when we were talking about dolphins, that he said that their personality was just sweeter than that of humans.

In his book Dr. White explores the philosophical implications of dolphins' exceptional cognitive abilities for our relations with them, and also describes more evolved, ethical ways for us to regard these magnificent, brilliant mammals.

Whether we say a dolphin is a person or a chimp is a person or a gorilla or an elephant, the underlying question really is what kind of treatment is appropriate to that species in order to allow that species to flourish, that is to have the kind of life that it is designed to have and then get fundamental pleasure and growth and development through that.

The first thing we have to do is to recognize the rights and the interests of other beings on the planet and recognize our duty to respect that. Not to say, our only duty is to treat them in a way that we consider to be appropriate. It's to respect the conditions that we set down, by what would be appropriate to their species for compassionate treatment.

It's more that as we recognize what it is that they need, what are the conditions under which they need to live, in order to develop fully. Our job is then to recognize that and to leave them alone in that regard, which then means issues relating to ending (dolphin) slaughters, and to stop regarding them as property.

Dr. White believes that humanity can learn many lessons from dolphins such as how to live sustainably as they have successfully done so for millions of years.

Simply, even in terms of our own survivability, the humans on the planet have been around for only two to three million years. We've had modern civilization a few hundred (years) and when you look at our history, we continue to make the planet less habitable for ourselves, never mind everybody else that we make it less habitable for.

We really couldn't say we've cracked the secret or come up with the formula for the long-term survivability of our own species. Dolphins have been around for a much longer period of time. The common ancestor of all the whales and dolphins, we're talking about 50 to 60 million years and the modern dolphin, maybe 15 million years I think.

Living in harmony with nature on our beautiful, shared planet, these supremely serene, intelligent beings of the sea convey immense love and tranquility to help stabilize the environment. Their soulful calls resonate with the vibrations of the ocean and our own souls, awakening our innate, noble Selves and encouraging us toward higher levels of consciousness.

There’s now greater appreciation for the fact that something like consciousness is going to be out there in the world of nature, in a variety of different ways. That evolution or adaptation is going to happen differently in a number of different species and so there’s no reason to expect that a trait that we have, that we’re going to be the only ones who have that.

So there’s definitely been a sense over time to see, as I’ve been aware of the scientific literature, greater appreciation of the fact that there will be different degrees of intelligence, different degrees of consciousness out there than we would have been saying before.

Our salute goes to Dr. Thomas White for his fruitful research and eye-opening views, which bring to light the loving, altruistic nature of our dolphin friends. May the lives of these beautiful co-inhabitants of our planet continue to bless our vast, blue oceans.

For more details on Dr. Thomas White, please visit:

“In Defense of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier” is available at the same website

Lovely viewers, thank you for your company today on Animal World: Our Co-Inhabitants. Coming up next is Enlightening Entertainment after Noteworthy News. May our hearts resonate with everlasting love and kindness.

We’ve all heard of deserts like what is a “food desert?” in North Africa, but what about a “food desert?”

Food deserts are basically urban environments where the inhabitants have greater access to liquor stores and to junk food than they do to fresh fruits and vegetables. We highlighted several organizations here locally in Chicago (USA) that we said are the solution to food deserts and that’s by creating urban gardens here in the city…

To learn more about Conscious Living TV and Soul of Green TV and their eco- and socially minded programming, please watch Part 2 of “Bianca and Michael Alexander: Leading the Media to a Conscious Planet” Sunday, April 18 on Good People, Good Works.

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