Frequently Asked Questions about Ethics and Rights

What would recognising the rights of whales and dolphins mean for recognising the rights of other species, such as cats, dogs, foxes etc?

WDC exists to work towards protecting whales and dolphins and so only addresses issues that affect these animals. Our arguments for the recognition of whale and dolphin rights are based on solid, emerging science. We can only argue for the rights of whales and dolphins to be recognised because our understanding has grown as scientific research has revealed how complex their lives are. This new knowledge demands that we re-evaluate how we see and treat whales and dolphins.

If we ‘give’ them rights (recognise their rights) does that then mean they have some kind of responsibility, for example, when an orca might injure or kill a trainer at an aquarium?

No. Having rights recognised does not mean that the individuals involved have a duty of care back towards those granting the rights. For example we grant human rights to young human toddlers. If we are successful in having the rights of whales and dolphins recognised, this does not mean whales and dolphins would be governed by our own moral frameworks

Why choose one group of animals over another – what makes whales and dolphins so special?

In simple terms, whales and dolphins are intelligent, live in complex social groups and we know this from the science. But they also have a very special place in many people’s hearts and have done for thousands of years.

How can WDC hope to achieve all the protection set out in the Declaration of Rights when some things are beyond even the control of individual governments (the effect of climate change for example)?

The Declaration is something to strive for and we accept that it can only be realised step by step. Adoption of the Declaration by political parties, nations and then inter-governmental organisations would raise the bar for whale and dolphin protection massively.

What does ‘rights for whales and dolphins’ mean?

WDC is campaigning for the basic moral rights of whales and dolphins to be recognised, such as the rights to life, freedom and wellbeing. We then want these rights to become international and domestic law.  This will then mean that it will become illegal to keep a dolphin captive, or kill a whale for food on the basis that it is against their rights as intelligent and complex individuals.

What sort of rights is WDC hoping to establish?

WDC believes that whales and dolphins should have their fundamental rights to life and freedom granted, that they should not be held captive for our entertainment, or caught  and killed in fishing nets, that they should not be killed for food or removed from their natural habitat, that they are not the property of anyone and that they should not be subjected to cruel treatment in any way by humans.


Has this been tried before with any other animal/species?

The Great Ape Project has made some good progress towards having the moral rights for whales and dolphins recognised, but there is still a great deal of work to be done on this campaign and as yet the Great Apes have not had their legal rights recognised (not even in Spain as some people may think).

Who can give rights to whales and dolphins and what would happen if these rights were then violated?

It isn’t a case of we humans ‘giving’ rights to whales and dolphins, but if they are recognised by international and domestic laws then these rights will be protected. If so, it would become a legal offense to violate these laws and the penalty would be dependent upon the severity of the violation. In some countries there is already legislation which prohibits humans from harassing whales and dolphins and to do so is punishable by various fines, so it would be an extension of what is already developing.

What role is WDC playing in all of this?

WDC is acting as the Secretariat for the Helsinki Group, the group that drafted the original Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: whales and dolphins (see, and we are working with a number of other groups and individuals to progress this campaign using science, philosophy and law.

What can I do to help?

Simple - please sign the declaration and share this with your family, friends and colleagues

What do we mean by 'sentient beings'?

In short - individuals with the capacity to feel and perceive the world around them, and the capacity to suffer. Research demonstrates that bottlenose dolphins can recognise themselves in a mirror, this tell us that they have a sense of self. Many different types of animals fit into the category of sentient, but beyond sentience, WDC believes that whales and dolphins are also ‘sapient’ – in other words that they can understand different types of behaviours and make appropriate judgements about how to respond.

What do we mean by 'non-human person' and how do whales and dolphin qualify?

Complex one this! Basically, personhood can be described as being aware; having the ability to experience positive and negative sensations (pleasure and pain); having emotions; being self-aware; having self-control; and a range of other intellectual abilities (including learning, solving complex problems and communicating with others in a way that suggests thought).

What makes whales and dolphins so special?

In simple terms, whales and dolphins are self-aware, very intelligence, live in complex social groups and we know this from the science. But they also have a very special place in many people’s hearts and have done for thousands of years