The Philosophy of Cetacean Conservation

Cetacean Conservation believes that future conservation efforts must acknowledge and progress the intrinsic rights of wild animal populations to be free from interference and have perpetual security for their critical habitats.

Why rights?

For the past five decades, a few enlightened policy makers – some in Government, others from within the academic community and others from the broader ‘animal welfare and rights’ policy movement – have dedicated focused and commendable effort on reforming institutionalized exploitation and redressing the grave situation faced by captive animals.

It is clear that if we seek a humane human society we must swiftly move from concentrating on ‘reducing suffering’ to recognizing that many animals have a consciousness and are entitled to better – that these animals have rights which should be recognised. The endgame for this reform campaign will mean an end to institutionalized exploitation. Considering the long timeline involved in all social movements, this first paradigm shift is actually in sight.

It is now important that we work towards the next paradigm shift – the day when we recognize that these same rights must also be applied to wild sentient animals and that responsibility extends to ‘doing no harm’ in the wild as well as at home – transitioning from a focus on institutionalized exploitation to chipping away at institutionalized disregard.

Many wild sentient animals now experience a barrage of threats resulting from human activities. Some harm is direct and lethal. Other impacts multiply or accumulate, gradually weakening individuals and populations. Others disrupt or erode social organisation and cultures. Together this harm reduces the survival probability of individuals, populations and whole species.

Often humans are simply unaware of the impacts of our actions. In other cases we regard the harm we do as a necessary cost of doing business. Sometimes this harm is simply a byproduct of some other activity. However, the impacts are real and widespread and mitigating these threats is complicated by differing impacts from region to region and species to species.

Recent decades have witnessed the significant development of an impressive international dialogue that deals with globally shared conservation issues including trade in endangered species, loss of biodiversity and climate change.

While important tools, these global instruments alone will not be able to address the complexity this challenge presents us. They will not be detailed enough to mitigate the different manifestation of impacts. They will not be responsive enough to the myriad of regional political organisation. Nor will they be tactile enough to connect with the subtle differences in localised human culture. Most importantly, they remain instruments that regulate the distribution and use of wildlife as human property.

Rolling back our footprint on the lives of wild animal populations especially wild animals in Africa will require the development of sophisticated and novel policy perspective and management models.

Wildlife have ho borders. Recognizing connectivity brings with it a responsibility – the responsibility to respect that we must protect what we share. Separating our interests can no longer work. We need to overcome the tyranny of borders, be they turf, policy, law, interest or of the mind. The global community – Governments and Civil Society – must transition to the next new era of international dialogue where interconnected but regionally specific measures are the norm and the intrinsic rights of wild animal populations are the centre piece of discussion. This dialogue must acknowledge that human ownership is a vestige of the past. It must be cognizant of the complexity of the global commons and fully involve the professional arm of civil society that has championed the rights of wild animal populations.

Why Cetaceans?

In the pulse of global dialogue it is now easy to identify a growing support for the protection of cetaceans (whales, dolphins and porpoises) great apes and elephants.

This dialogue between media commentators, personal blogs, mass protests and policy responses reflects an evolving social determination built on different but often interconnected motives. For cetaceans this often includes: a feeling of special connection many peoples of the world feel for these species; awareness that cetaceans have societies and culture that humans can recognize – an alien intelligence that we inherently respect; or simply an acknowledgement that cetaceans have an ecological role as high order predators with a functional significance in the ecosystems on which they depend.

This desire to protect cetaceans is increasingly reflected in State policy and law, as a normative legal right that translates as either a right of survival or protection from harm. International norms are edging in a similar direction.

Working from the premise that cetaceans are not the property of humankind and that they warrant protection from all the threats that are impacting their survival – a position that stands on solid philosophical, ecological and management grounds – Cetacean Conservation is dedicated to developing a connected network of regional agreements through the Convention for the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals (CMS) providing strong and regionally appropriate protection for cetaceans across their migratory range.

Much can be learned from this exercise. We hope that it will contribute to a growing international dialogue where the intrinsic rights of wild animal populations that live across boundaries and often in the global commons are the focus of discussion. We are committed to supporting the involvement and development of the professional arm of civil society that has championed the rights of wild cetaceans.

In time we hope that this work will benefit other wild animal populations.