Skip to content

Personhood – who are whales and dolphins?

Non –human persons? Moral and legal rights? Personhood? What has this got to do with whales and dolphins and protecting them?

WDC believes that each and every whale and dolphin is a fascinating individual in their own right. They are a ‘who’, not a ‘what’. And, like us, they deserve to lead an amazing life, not suffer. They have the right not to be harmed. After all, quite rightly, it is unacceptable for someone to chase you down the street and try to spear you, or lock you in a room for decades. So why should it be acceptable to hunt a highly intelligent and social being like a dolphin, or take him or her from their ocean home and put them in a tank for the rest of their lives?

They deserve to be treated in a certain way

  • They should have individual rights; the right to live safe and free from human harm.
  • They deserve to live in a clean, noise free and safe environment
  • Science shows us that they are complex, social individuals often living in social communities and those communities deserve to be protected
  • Each whale and dolphin has a rich inner life and a unique personality.
  • Whales and dolphins can also have rich social lives, learn from each other and some even have unique cultures that deserve protecting
Humpback whale. Photo: Vanessa Mignon

So, whales and dolphins have the right not to be harmed. But whales and dolphins do suffer in captivity, when hunted or caught up in nets. These rights have to be recognised. After all, all the threats they face are largely human made. We have a moral obligation to protect their rights.

The science
Scientific evidence demonstrates that whales and dolphins understand a great deal about the world around them, many have complex social lives, some also have unique cultures and some even have neurons in their brains associated with empathy, which were previously thought only to be found in humans and some of the great apes.  Finally, we are beginning to understand that these species should be treated as a ‘who’ not a ‘what’.

So, whales and dolphins should be treated as non-human persons, not objects or our property.

The legal bit
Once human societies have made the leap of recognising the moral rights of whales and dolphins we then need to ensure that these rights are protected and this is where legal rights come in to play.

The first step on the legal journey will be the recognition of dolphins and whales as non-human persons. From there we can begin to look at what this will mean for having specific rights for whales and dolphins recognised in law. For example, introducing legislation that will make it illegal to kill or capture dolphins or keep them captive for entertainment.

Please join us in the forefront of this exciting journey by signing the Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins.

Your voice counts! Speak up for those non-human persons who can’t speak for themselves!

Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans: Whales and Dolphins

Please join us in the forefront of this exciting journey by signing the declaration.

Your voice counts!

Speak up for those who can’t speak for themselves in the human world!

Please help us protect whales and dolphins and their homes

By adopting a whale or dolphin, by making a donation, or by fundraising for WDC, you can help us save these amazing creatures.

Orca - Rob Lott


Adopt a whale or dolphin and help us stop whaling.

Bottlenose dolphins leaping


Your gifts help us take action to end this cruel practice.

Humpback whale spyhop


Run, bake, walk, cycle… what could you do to help?