Why Killing Whales is Murder
Commentary by Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
One of the definitions of murder is: To kill or slaughter inhumanly or barbarously.
This definition would define many forms of animal slaughter as murder including the horrifically cruel slaughter of seal pups on the ice off Eastern Canada each year.
One of the convenient defenses of whaling and other forms of lethal animal utilization is that the killing of a human being is the only type of death infliction that can be legitimately and legally classified as murder.
This comes down to just what is a definition of a human being? Not so long ago, non-whites were not considered human beings under law. American law actually stated over a century ago that Native Americans were, in fact, not entitled to rights under law because the law applied only to human beings. In Nazi Germany, the killing of a Jew by a German was not murder according to German law. In ancient Greece and Rome, slaves were not considered to be human beings.
Today, except in a few rare cases, all homo sapiens are considered to be human beings, and murder is condemned except when given legitimacy by government when it is convenient to kill other human beings for national or economic reasons.
The definition of murder seems to be a fluid thing depending upon the particular human political, spiritual, or cultural bias in dominance at the time.
Chimpanzees share 99% of similar DNA characteristics with humans. Is a one percent difference the only factor for not characterizing the killing of a chimp as murder?
One difference that has been used for years to differentiate humans from all other animals is the presence of spindle neurons in the human brain. These specialized brain cells are thought to process emotion and are the cells behind feelings of love and grief. The spindle cells are located in the parts of the human brain linked with social organization, empathy, speech, and intuition.
Amazingly, a recent research project has revealed that these spindle cells reside in the same area of the brain in humpback whales, fin whales, orcas, and sperm whales as in humans. More importantly, they have existed in cetacean brains for much longer than humans have had them. Even more amazing is that proportionally these whales have three times as many of these spindle cells in their brains as humans have.
All this added to the fact that whale brains are larger, four-lobed compared to our three, and have more convolutions on the neo-cortex than humans and we are looking at the possibility of a sentient creature that has emotions, thinking abilities, self awareness, and is capable of intense suffering and grief. [For more on this subject, read Captain Watson's essay The Paragon of Animals: Reflections on the Human Perception of Intelligence]
"It's absolutely clear to me that these are extremely intelligent animals," says Patrick Hof of the Mount Sinai School of Medicine in New York. "Their potential for high-level brain function, clearly demonstrated already at the behavioural level, is confirmed by the existence of neuronal types once thought unique to humans and our closet relatives."
Hof added, "Dolphins communicate through huge song repertoires, recognize their own songs, and make up new ones. They also form coalitions to plan hunting strategies, teach these to younger individuals, and have evolved social networks similar to those of apes and humans."
The full story on this discovery can be accessed from: http://www.newscientist.com/channel/life/mg19225804.000-brainy-whales-get-emotional.html (Note: This link is to a preview of story - subscription needed to access full story)
What these studies call into question is the ethics of killing whales and dolphins. What we are learning is that this killing is becoming more in line with what the generally held legal and moral definition of murder is.
I believe that killing is wrong with regard to any species, and the taking of life - any life - should be avoided except in the case of self defense.
Unfortunately, the promotion of non-lethal utilization of animals is a tough sell in a world of over 6.5 billion predominantly flesh eating hominids.
Technically speaking, humans are not carnivorous hominids. Humans fall into the necrovore category which means the eating of dead flesh. Humans do not kill their meat so much as they scavenge it. Even hunters do not kill and eat the hot living flesh of their victims. They wait for the meat to get cold and to begin the putrification process before consumption.
But when humans kill animals that share similar brain processes including proven self awareness, and evidence of suffering and emotions, the definition of murder becomes more than appropriate.
This presents a dilemma for humans. Can deliberate cold-blooded murder of a sentient self aware being capable of intense suffering be condoned by humanity?
Of course, humans practice profound tortures and inflict grisly death upon other humans all the time. We are a violent species. Whales and dolphins do not practice murder upon each other and in this respect are in a position to teach us a great deal about social harmony if we would only pay attention.
I have long held that whales and dolphins are far more intelligent than humans based on their superior brain size and complexity, but now the discovery of larger proportions of spindle cell neurons convinces me more than ever that they are more intelligent.
It is an intelligence, alien to our own manipulative perception of intelligence, dependent upon eye-to-hand coordination and reliant upon collectively evolved technology.
Of course, a non-manipulative technology is difficult to understand but, in my view, such a mind would be capable of superior forms of communication and thinking.
What this means is that instead of spending vast sums of money searching the cosmos for intelligent life, we would be smart to focus on investigating the possibility of communicating with intelligence life forms on the Earth or, more pointedly, in the oceans.
A few years ago, I was debating Norwegian whale killer Georg Blitchfield on a radio program. Georg said I was being ridiculous to suggest that whales are more intelligent than humans.
I did not wish to get into the scientific details with a whale killing thug from Norway, so I said that I measured intelligence by the ability of species to live in harmony within their ecosystem.
Georg responded by calling me stupid and said that by that kind of criteria, cockroaches were more intelligent than humans.
I replied, "Georg you're beginning to understand what I'm talking about."
He dismissed me as a "whale cultist" which I found bizarre, but then murder is a bizarre behaviour and Georg the proud killer of intelligent whales is a self-confessed serial murderer.
The whale killers we are going down to oppose in the Antarctic Whale Sanctuary are ruthless mass murderers of intelligent, emotional, self aware, socially complex sentient beings.
The pain their thousand victims will experience is something that we must have empathy for and it is this empathy that guides my crew into risking their lives to intervene against what is an atrocity and a crime against nature and humanity.
The killing of a whale is an act of murder.