The woman holding her own with the whales is Sarah, a member of the Vancouver Animal Defense League. I photographed her last night on West Broadway Avenue at Granville Street.
She was one of the protesters who crashed the Vancouver Aquarium’s exclusive grand opening bash a few hours earlier.
According to a posting on the ADL Facebook page, 150 protesters had a whale of a time telling the Aquarium “Thanks but no tanks”.
The guest list of the Aquarium’s invitation-only gala opening was expected to include local luminaries like politicians, media personalities, aquarium board members, donors, and supporters.
Sarah and other protesters were there to speak up on behalf of the Aquarium’s other, unwilling guests, particularly the whales and dolphins.
In case you are wondering, I do not think whales and dolphins should be held in captivity. I personally feel that all zoos and aquariums should be abolished.
If we want to see wild animals, we should go visit them in their habitat—meaning we have to learn to share the planet with them—and when we go visiting we have to remember to act like the guests that we are.
The case for marine mammals and against inhumanity
[science-monkey mode ON]
With whales and dolphins, there is a strong case to be made that it is simply inhuman to hold such highly intelligent marine mammals in captivity. To do it for amusement and profit seems that much more odious to some of us.
But the general argument against holding animals in captivity sounds like crazy talk to a lot of people because it’s really saying that animals—some animals, at least—should be treated like people.
And, well, that’s nuts right? Only people should be treated like people.
Which itself is easier said than done.
Drawing the line on empathy
Within the human family, the inability to have empathy for other people is seen as a mental illness called psychopathy.
Psychopaths are unable to empathize. They see all other people as less than themselves—as animals. To be a psychopath is to behave in a way that is utterly inhuman.
Which is the same as saying that the human species behaves psychopathically (without empathy, remorse, or inhibition) towards all other species on Earth. Why? Apparently characters out of ancient mythology told us once a long time ago we had the right to behave inhumanly towards anything that isn’t human.
Sadly, these characters left no forwarding address where we can reach them for clarifications beyond two vague conflicting directions of “up there” and “down below”.
That hasn’t stopped up from taking this permission and running wild with it. Being able to treat anything that isn’t human as a resource to be used, abused, or exploited in any way we see fit is just so liberating.
Occasionally there are problems. Some humans try to reclassify other humans as animals so they can enslave or exterminate them. But so far it’s been nothing a little war couldn’t fix.
When you assume…you make an…
Human superiority has never been based on facts, just assumptions. In my lifetime, science has been making an ass of those assumptions. Bit by bit, the stereotype of the “dumb” animal has been crumbling in the face of evidence to the contrary.
There is nearly 40 years of research suggesting that great apes, like chimpanzees and gorillas, can learn language and communicate with people.
I consider Koko to be a famous public figure, someone I followed in the media as I grew up. She’s the female gorilla born in 1971 who is thought to understand spoken English and be able to communicate using sign language.
And no one anymore questions that marine mammals are intelligent. The evidence is too overwhelming. The question is how intelligent.
We wouldn’t know real intelligence if it hit us on the head
Both whales and dolphins clearly communicate within their species. It’s not their fault that we’re not intelligent enough to figure out if they have “true” language or not.
Research into non-human intelligence has actually had the unintended consequence of showing up our poor understanding of intelligence in general, based as it is on our unquestioned intellectual superiority.
For instance we no longer point to brain size as an absolute measure of our higher intelligence, because whales, elephants and bottlenose dolphins (not to mention the extinct human species Neanderthals) all enjoy larger brains than human beings.
Same goes for surface convolutions of the brain, general brain complexity, brain-to-body size ration, and spindle cells; cetaceans and elephants are our intellectual equals according to these measures.
Fortunately we still lead in warfare and network television programming.
Now for something completely different
Several very tasty cephalopod species, including, octopi, squid, and cuttlefish, appear disturbingly intelligent; disturbing because they’re so obviously intelligent and so alien.
If we can’t and won’t acknowledge the higher intelligence and rights of other species on our own planet, what does that say about our capacity to identify or ever coexist with an intelligent extraterrestrial species?
And meanwhile, wouldn’t you know it, out in the wide, wild, world somewhere, dolphins and whales are arguing whether human beings are truly intelligent or just faking it.