Animal Rights, Steven Wise, and Steven Colbert

This five and half minute interview filled with humor is really a very good one

“Fish Are Sentient and Must Be Included in Our Moral Circle”

Fish are Sentient and Emotional Beings and Clearly Feel Pain

By Marc Bekoff, Ph.D. on June, 19, 2014 in Animal Emotions

Fish deserve better treatment based on a review of scientific data on their cognitive and emotional lives. According to the author, “the extensive evidence of fish behavioural and cognitive sophistication and pain perception suggests that best practice would be to lend fish the same level of protection as any other vertebrate.” Fish must be included in our moral circle. Read More

Crafty Cod Use Tool to Get Food: Nothing Fishy About It

The more we learn about other animals the more fascinating they are

Dolphin Speak: Did a Dolphin Really Say “Seaweed”?


”I don’t see a fundamental white line that distinguishes us from other animals.” Dr. Terrence Deacon
Dolphin tool use influences a population’s genetic structure and they may talk.
Dolphins are unquestionably highly charismatic animals. They have unique and sophisticated communication skills and also are known to use tools, including sponges to protect their sensitive beaks, when foraging for food.

During the past two weeks I came across two extremely interesting articles about these crafty cetaceans. The first, titled “Dolphin whistle instantly translated by computer” by Hal Hodson, considers the possibility that dolphins are able to whistle the same words we use to denote an object. The print version of the latter essay is called “Decoding dolphin.” The second, called “Cultural transmission of tool use combined with habitat specializations leads to fine-scale genetic structure in bottlenose dolphins” by Anna Kopps of the University of New South Wales and her colleagues, focuses on their use of protective sponges during foraging and its effect on the genetic structure of dolphin populations.

Say what? Did you really whistle seaweed?

Denise Herzing is well known for her and her team’s long-term field research on Atlantic spotted dolphins. Among many aspects of the amazing lives of dolphins, she has long been interested in dolphin communication and whether or not they and other animals use language to communicate with one another or can use language to communicate with us.

While it’s too early to know for sure, there is compelling evidence that some animals are language users (see, for example, a brief review of the research by Dr. Con Slobochikoff on prairie dogs). I found Hal Hodson’s essay called “Decoding dolphin” to be an extremely interesting, stimulating, and easy read. To wit, and I encourage you to take a few minutes to read it, Mr. Hodson begins: “IT was late August 2013 and Denise Herzing was swimming in the Caribbean. The dolphin pod she had been tracking for the past 25 years was playing around her boat. Suddenly, she heard one of them say, ‘Sargassum'”. And, what did Dr. Herzing exclaim? “‘I was like whoa! We have a match. I was stunned.'” Dr. Herzing “was wearing a prototype dolphin translator called Cetacean Hearing and Telemetry (CHAT) and it had just translated a live dolphin whistle for the first time.” So, “When the computer picked up the sargassum whistle, Herzing heard her own recorded voice saying the word into her ear.” I, too, would have been stunned and I can’t wait for more research in this fascinating area of study.

Perhaps we are not the only animals who use language. Dr. Terrence Deacon, a neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley, who also is an expert in animal communication, notes, “I don’t see a fundamental white line that distinguishes us from other animals.” Only time and research will tell if we’re alone in the language arena. For now it’s a good idea to keep the door wide open.

Cultural hitchhiking: Was there a “sponging Eve”?

An informative summary of the research on the genetics of tool use in dolphins living in Shark Bay in Western Australia can be found in an article called “Cultural hitchhiking: How social behavior can affect genetic makeup in dolphins.” It turns out that the culturally transmitted use of sponges—called vertical social transmission—can actually “shape the genetic makeup” of wild dolphins. Dolphins, who live deep in the bay, show mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) types called Haplotype E or Haplotype F that are inherited solely from the mother, whereas non-sponging dolphins who live in shallower water mainly show Haplotype H. All of the 22 sponging dolphins who were observed turned out to be members of one matriline and were Haplotype E.

This novel and significant discovery demonstrates a strong correlation between haplotype and habitat. According to Dr. Kopps, “Our research shows that social learning should be considered as a possible factor that shapes the genetic structure of a wild animal population.” She also notes, “For humans we have known for a long time that culture is an important factor in shaping our genetics. Now we have shown for the first time that a socially transmitted behaviour like tool use can also lead to different genetic characteristics within a single animal population, depending on which habitat they live in.” This is one of the first demonstrations of what is called “cultural hitchhiking” in nonhuman animals.

What an exciting time it is to study the behavior of nonhuman animals. Stay tuned for more on their fascinating lives.

Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014.

Elephants recognize the voices of their enemies

[This is true of many other animal species as well...]

African elephants can distinguish human languages, genders and ages associated with danger.

  1. An African elephant listening intently. Elephants can recognize which humans are more likely to pose a danger depending on what they sound like.

    Karen McComb

  2. A matriarch reacts with alarm after the play-back of a Maasai voice.

    Karen McComb

  3. An elephant family group on the move.

    Graeme Shannon

    Humans are among the very few animals that constitute a threat to elephants. Yet not all people are a danger — and elephants seem to know it. The giants have shown a remarkable ability to use sight and scent to distinguish between African ethnic groups that have a history of attacking them and groups that do not. Now a study reveals that they can even discern these differences from words spoken in the local tongues.

Biologists Karen McComb and Graeme Shannon at the University of Sussex in Brighton, UK, guessed that African elephants (Loxodonta africana) might be able to listen to human speech and make use of what they heard. To tease out whether this was true, they recorded the voices of men from two Kenyan ethnic groups calmly saying, “Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming,” in their native languages. One of these groups was the semi-nomadic Maasai, some of whom periodically kill elephants during fierce competition for water or cattle-grazing space. The other was the Kamba, a crop-farming group that rarely has violent encounters with elephants.

The researchers played the recordings to 47 elephant family groups at Amboseli National Park in Kenya and monitored the animals’ behaviour. The differences were remarkable. When the elephants heard the Maasai, they were much more likely to cautiously smell the air or huddle together than when they heard the Kamba. Indeed, the animals bunched together nearly twice as tightly when they heard the Maasai.


Maybe If We Had Worshipped the Creation

Created by Jim Robertson

Sunday school children are taught that it is blasphemy to worship the creation instead of the Creator. Rather than encouraging people to praise the miraculous (in the non-secular sense of the word) living planet and all its incredible diversity of sentient life forms, western religions threaten eternal damnation if you don’t swear blind allegiance to some patriarchal creation of the human imagination, created in the image of man.

Hence, Homo sapiens has run roughshod over the Earth, destroying the very same natural systems that allowed us to come into being and trampling the rights of all other beings in our obsessed quest for domination over a world we’ve proven unworthy of even having dominion over.

Now, with so much of the land divided and conquered, the seas losing oxygen and turning acidic and the air encrusted in carbon, only fire remains untamed. Maybe if we had worshipped the creation and treated the Mother Earth with the respect she deserves, we would be feeling her love—instead of her punishing wrath.

Why is it so hard for otherwise hyper-intelligent humans to feel a sense of awe for a living world that came into form through the process of evolution, rather than one created by a mythical man-like creature? We see it happen every year, when life springs forth from a formerly frozen “wasteland.” Do people really believe some grey-bearded Santa Claus look-alike (minus the jolly disposition) waves a magic wand at every plant that shoots up to the heavens and every animal who, in their own way, rejoices?

Religion is supposed to teach humility, but after constantly being reminded that they are the Creator’s crowning achievement, humankind is anything but humble.

Holy bear

Computer Identifies Individual Wolves’ Howls

By Marc Lallanilla, Assistant Editor   |   July 23, 2013

The howl of a wolf in the wilderness may make your spine tingle — it has a similar effect on wolf conservationists, who have struggled for years to accurately analyze the sounds that wolves make. Researchers at Nottingham Trent University (NTU) in England have now developed a computer program that can identify the signature howl of an individual wolf with pinpoint accuracy. Just like a person’s voice, the howl of a wolf has a specific pitch and volume. But identifying each wolf’s howl has been difficult, especially in the wild, where wind and water can muffle and distort the sound. It gets even more challenging when a pack of wolves starts howling in unison. – See more at:
[Gee, maybe animals aren't so dumb after all...On a related note]:

Scientists have found further evidence that dolphins call each other by “name”.

Research has revealed that the marine mammals use a unique whistle to identify each other.

A team from the University of St Andrews in Scotland found that when the animals hear their own call played back to them, they respond.

The study is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Dr Vincent Janik, from the university’s Sea Mammal Research Unit, said: “(Dolphins) live in this three-dimensional environment, offshore without any kind of landmarks and they need to stay together as a group.

“These animals live in an environment where they need a very efficient system to stay in touch.”

Signature whistles

It had been-long suspected that dolphins use distinctive whistles in much the same way that humans use names.

Previous research found that these calls were used frequently, and dolphins in the same groups were able to learn and copy the unusual sounds.

But this is the first time that the animals response to being addressed by their “name” has been studied.


copyrighted Hayden wolf walking

Scientists Should Wake Up and Smell the Fish Farts

When studying something which can be tested in a lab, scientists don’t hesitate to employ the tried and true formula: if it looks like shit, and smells like it, chances are it’s actually shit. When it comes to literal excrement, some scientists are real whizzes. Even without a DNA test, they can tell you with near-certainty through which species of animal’s anus a particular scat has passed. But when it comes to animal sentience, some scientists still don’t know shit (pardon my French—throughout).

Thanks to his creator, author Arthur Conan Doyle, the criminologist Sherlock Holmes famously pointed out that, “If you’ve eliminated all other possibilities, whatever remains must be the truth.” Well, scientists have spent centuries toying with every other possibility to avoid the obvious fact that non-human animals are conscious, thinking, feeling beings.

Incredibly, there are some who’re still grappling with the question: “Are animals aware?” What the fuck—of course they’re aware! Most animals are far more aware of their surroundings than the average human, for that matter.

The science of animal behavior has come a long ways from the dark days of Rene Descartes, thanks to the likes of Donald Griffin, Marc Bekoff and other pioneers in the study of cognitive ethology. Just last summer, an international group of prominent neuroscientists meeting at the University of Cambridge issued “The Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals,” The document stated that “humans are not unique in possessing the neurological substrates that generate consciousness,” and concludes that numerous documented animal behaviors must be considered “consistent with experienced feeling states.”

Having witnessed remarkably intelligent actions on the part of individuals throughout the animal kingdom—from the family dog leaping to his feet at the whispered mention of a “walk” or “car ride,” to a herd of wild bison mourning over the remains of their dead—my response to the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals is, “Well duh, tell us something we don’t know.”

Speciously, the Cambridge Declaration drew an arbitrary line and left the world of fishes out in the cold when it comes to animal consciousness. Far too many of today’s “behaviorists” still ascribe to the long outdated notion of fish the way science had long thought of all non-human animals—as automatons: mindless machines going through life without any more than random responses to stimuli.

Now I’m in no way anti-science—far from it, in fact—I just think that sometimes a scientist will spend an exorbitant amount of time chasing his or her tail when the answer they’re looking for is as plain as the nose on their face.

Take the question of animal communication, for example. We all know whales and dolphins are able (when they can find a quiet stretch of ocean—devoid of the deafening drone of ships or navy sonar) to communicate with one another through songs or clicks, respectively. But lately observers have learned that even fish have devised clever ways to keep in touch. According to an article entitled “Fish Farts: Herring Use Flatulence To Communicate” in the Huffington Post, apparently some types of herring pass gas to “speak” to each other without alerting other fish.

Researchers Bob Batty, Ben Wilson and Larry Dill made that Nobel Prize-worthy discovery after studying Pacific and Atlantic herring in Canada and Scotland, noting (importantly) that the gas is not caused by the digestive process. Instead, the fish swallow air from the surface and emit it through a small opening near their bung holes. Thus, profound as they may be, the bubbles aren’t really farts in the stinky, human sense.

So, it seems to me a bit arrogant to write an entire class of animal life out of a “Declaration on Consciousness in Non-Human Animals.” Granted, herring may not be flatulent enough to recite the Preamble to the Constitution, but then, as Georg Christoph Lichtenberg wrote, “Only a man can draw a self-portrait, but only a man wants to.”

Time for skeptical scientists to wake up and smell the sentience when it comes to fish.


Animals are Conscious, but Do Hunters Have a Conscience?

Not that it should come as a surprise to anyone who’s ever befriended a dog or cat, or watched birds in their backyard, but in July 2012, respected scientists met in Cambridge and went on record to affirm that non-humans are conscious. Belated as the matter has been in gaining acceptance, their “Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness” was a welcome step in the right direction for the world’s most continually oppressed and victimized—those born of species other than human.

The declaration asserts:

The absence of a neocortex does not appear to preclude an organism from experiencing affective states. 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. …

Okay, that may sound like a bunch of academic hullabaloo, but in layman’s terms, animals are indeed conscious beings. Though not really a profound revelation, the fact that non-humans are not automatons runs counter to hundreds of years of accepted belief (thanks to the fifteenth century French mathematician, Rene Descartes) that’s been used to justify untold animal cruelties for far too long.

In recent decades, the science of cognitive ethology has clearly put to rest grandiose notions of human superiority—besides perhaps the extent of human narcissism.  Nowadays, none but the most agenda-driven or willfully ignorant can claim unfamiliarity with the fact that non-human animals exhibit awareness and have the capacity to experience pain and fear, along with pleasurable feelings and emotions.

So if irrational Cartesian rationale for cruelty to animals is outmoded thinking, how then do hunters justify the virtually unprecedented abuse of our fellow Earthlings going on in the name of sport today? Could it be that sport hunters lack a conscience for all but our own kind?

As you’ve probably heard, British rocker and staunch animal rights activist, Morrissey, canceled his scheduled performance on the “Jimmy Kimmel Live” show this week due to a planned appearance on the same night by the cast of “Duck Dynasty” (a “reality” program which focuses on a family that became wealthy by making tools for their fellow duck hunters.)  The singer released a statement on Monday saying he “cannot morally be on a television program where the cast members of Duck Dynasty will also be guests.”

Morrissey also stated: “As far as my reputation is concerned, I can’t take the risk of being on a show alongside people who, in effect, amount to animal serial killers.”

Serial Killers? How can he liken avid, good ol’ boy duck hunters to serial killers, one might ask? Well, easy. Both serial killers and duck hunters act without conscience toward their multiple victims, whom they depersonalize and objectify. And both kill others to boost their self-esteem, some even going so far as taking trophies of their victims’ body parts.

The next question scientists need to address is, assuming that hunters are conscious animals, why don’t they have a conscience?

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Text and Wildlife Photography ©Jim Robertson, 2013. All Rights Reserved

Good Questions


On Facebook this morning a friend had posted a photo of a cruelly confined pig at a factory farm desperatly chewing on the bars of her cage. A caption read, “If your God had wanted us to eat animals, do you really think he would have given them the ability to feel pain and fear? What kind of sadistic individual would that make him?!”

Good questions. Taking it a step further, I have to wonder…if god had wanted us to eat animals, do you really think he would have given us the ability to feel their pain and fear?!

Unfortunately, empathy and compassion are not doled out equally to all.

Some people feel them so strongly it literally pains us to hear about the brutalities inflicted on nonhumans by their fellow man. The sadness is outweighed only by the understanding that many of the animal cruelties are so widespread and so accepted by society it will require nothing short of a major revolution in thinking to put an end to them. For those of us so well-endowed with empathy and compassion, every KFC, Arby’s or McDonalds commercial, every shiny photo ad for this weeks’ meat and dairy specials at the local market, every camo-clad nimrod in a pickup truck sporting an NRA bumper sticker inspires feelings of grief, anguish or anger.

There are those, Temple Grandin, for instance, may be able to feel empathy but apparently not compassion. Her autism allegedly allows her to experience the fear and anxiety factory farmed animals go through, yet her lack of compassion allows her to work for the animal industries, helping to spread the absurd, feel-good myth that some animals are “humanely” raised (and slaughtered), thereby giving consumers a license to ignore any twinges of empathy or compassion they might have.

And there are many who are completely incapable of feeling empathy for others. They’re the lucky ones—if hollowness, selfishness and superficiality are to be considered enviable traits.