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Holly. Image: Miray Campbell

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Humpback whale. Image: Christopher Swann

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Risso's dolphin at surface

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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

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Risso's dolphin © Andy Knight

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Citizen scientists in Scotland are helping us better understand Risso's dolphins by sending us their...

WE ARE NOT ALONE: scientists conclude whales, dolphins and many other species are conscious

Consciousness is often perceived as an ethereal notion which is difficult to pin down. However, finally, a group of eminent scientists meeting to discuss the neurobiological basis of conscious experience and related behaviours agreed that:

Convergent evidence indicates that non-human animals have the neuroanatomical, neurochemical, and neurophysiological substrates of conscious states along with the capacity to exhibit intentional behaviors. Consequently, the weight of evidence indicates that humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness. Nonhuman animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

These scientists argue that the abundance of new data in this field requires a re-evaluation of our preconceptions about consciousness in other species. Whilst this may come as no surprise to many of us, it is a huge step forward for these scientists, from a broad range of neurobiological fields, to be satisfied that they have enough supporting evidence to boldly state the case for consciousness in these other species.

The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness was crafted in July at Cambridge University during the Francis Crick Memorial Conference on Consciousness in Human and non-Human Animals. The Declaration was signed by the conference participants and in the presence of the celebrated scientist, Professor Stephen Hawking.

WDCS argues that not only are whales and dolphins conscious, but that they often live in complex communities, that they are capable of experiencing a range of emotions and that they are sentient and sapient beings.