Will humans ever learn to speak whale?

https://www.livescience.com/can-humans-understand-whales.html

By Randyn Bartholomew – Live Science Contributor about 7 hours ago

What do those clicking sounds mean?

sperm whale in the ocean

What’s this sperm whale saying? (Image credit: Reinhard Dirscherl via Getty Images)

Sperm whales are among the loudest living animals on the planet, producing creaking, knocking and staccato clicking sounds to communicate with other whales that are a few feet to even a few hundred miles away. 

This symphony of patterned clicks, known as codas, might be sophisticated enough to qualify as a full-fledged language. But will humans ever understand what these cetaceans are saying?

The answer is maybe, but first researchers have to collect and analyze an unprecedented number of sperm whale communications, researchers told Live Science.

Related: Tale of 2 tails: Why do sharks and whales swim so differently?

With brains six times larger than ours, sperm whales (Physeter macrocephalus) have intricate social structures and spend much of their time socializing and exchanging codas. These messages can be as brief as 10 seconds, or last over half an hour. In fact, “The complexity and duration of whale vocalizations suggest that they are at least in principle capable of exhibiting a more complex grammar” than other nonhuman animals, according to an April 2021 paper about sperm whales posted to the preprint server arXiv.org. 

This paper, by a cross-disciplinary project known as CETI (Cetacean Translation Initiative), outlines a plan to decode sperm whale vocalizations, first by collecting recordings of sperm whales, and then by using machine learning to try to decode the sequences of clicks these fellow mammals use to communicate. CETI chose to study sperm whales over other whales because their clicks have an almost Morse code-like structure, which artificial intelligence (AI) might have an easier time analyzing.

Breaching the surface

The little that humans do know about sperm whales has all been learned quite recently. It was only in the 1950s that we noted they made sounds, and it wasn’t known that they were using those sounds to communicate until the 1970s, according to the new research posted by CETI.

This clicking appears to serve a dual purpose. Sperm whales can dive to depths of 4,000 feet (1,200 meters), or three times deeper than nuclear submarines, according to the Woods Holes Oceanographic Institution. Because it is pitch black at these depths, they have evolved to seek out squid and other marine creatures by using clicks for echolocation, a type of sonar. This same clicking mechanism is also used in their social vocalizations, although the communication clicks are more tightly packed, according to the CETI paper.

Figuring out even this much has been challenging, as sperm whales have “been so hard for humans to study for so many years,” David Gruber, a marine biologist and CETI project leader, told Live Science. But now, “we actually do have the tools to be able to look at this more in depth in a way that we haven’t been able to before.” Those tools include AI, robotics and drones, he said.

Pratyusha Sharma, a data science researcher for CETI and a doctoral candidate in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, told Live Science more about recent developments in artificial intelligence and language models, such as GPT-3, which uses deep learning to construct human-like text or stories on command, and last year took the AI community by storm. Scientists hope these same methods could be applied to the vocalizations of sperm whales, she said. The only problem: these methods have a voracious appetite for data.

The CETI project currently has recordings of about 100,000 sperm whale clicks, painstakingly gathered by marine biologists over many years, but the machine-learning algorithms might need somewhere in the vicinity of 4 billion. To bridge this gap, CETI is setting up numerous automated channels for collecting recordings from sperm whales. These include underwater microphones placed in waters frequented by sperm whales, microphones that can be dropped by eagle-eyed airborne drones as soon as they spot a pod of sperm whales congregating at the surface, and even robotic fish that can follow and listen to whales unobtrusively from a distance.

But even with all this data, will we be able to decipher it? Many of the machine-learning algorithms have found audio more difficult to analyze than text. For instance, it might be challenging to parse apart where one word begins and ends. As Sharma explained, “Suppose there’s a word ‘umbrella.’ Is ‘um’ the word or is it ‘umbrell’ or is it ‘umbrella’?” The barriers between spoken words are more ambiguous and less regular, and patterns may therefore require more data to suss out.

That’s not the only difficulty CETI will face. “Whether someone comes from let’s say Japan or from the U.S. or from wherever, the worlds we talk about are very similar; we talk about people, we talk about their actions,” Sharma said. “But the worlds these whales live in are very different, right? And the behaviors are very different.”RELATED MYSTERIES

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What’s more, sperm whales are known to have dialects, according to a 2016 study in the journal Royal Society Open Science, which analyzed codas from nine sperm whale groups in the Caribbean for six years.

But these difficulties are also what make the project so worthwhile. What exactly one sperm whale says to another remains as dark and murky as the waters they swim in, but this mystery makes any answers CETI finds all the more intriguing. As Gruber put it, “We learn so much when we try to view the world from the perspective of the other.”

Originally published on Live Science.

Do animals hug each other?

https://www.livescience.com/do-other-animals-hug.html

By Emma Bryce – Live Science Contributor about 14 hours ago

Who else is fond of a warm embrace?

The 17-year-old male bonobo 'Manono' and 4-year-old male 'Pole' hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010.

The 17-year-old male bonobo ‘Manono’ and 4-year-old male ‘Pole’ hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2010. (Image credit: Anup Shah via Getty Images)

COVID-19 interrupted one of life’s most familiar acts: the warm, enveloping comfort of a hug. The pandemic taught us many things, some more important than others — but one of those is just how much many of us rely on these embraces for a sense of reassurance, consolation and calm. 

We’ve become profoundly aware of the significance of this simple act in our human lives — but does hugging exist in the rest of the animal kingdom? Are there any other species that embrace in the way humans do?

To answer that, first we have to define exactly what we mean by “hug.” From a subjective human standpoint, of course, a hug happens when someone wraps their arms around someone else. Naturally, this restricts hugging to animals with arms — and those are mainly primates, like us. This quickly reveals that, while we might see hugs as a uniquely human trait, hugging is actually just as prominent in the lives of nonhuman primates.

Related: Do any animals know their grandparents?CLOSEhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.462.0_en.html#goog_1642412559Volume 0% PLAY SOUND

Comfort and consolation 

Take, for example, bonobos (Pan paniscus), which are often described as the peace-loving hippies of the primate world. These primates have been a lifelong subject of study for Zanna Clay, a comparative and developmental psychologist and primatologist at Durham University in the United Kingdom. Clay studies social interactions among bonobos, and much of her observational work takes place at a sanctuary in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for bonobos whose lives have been disrupted by hunting. At this sanctuary, it’s common to see troops of infants obsessively clinging to one another as they walk around in tandem. 

“You have quite a lot of young orphans who need quite a lot of reassurance, and they do what we call the ‘hug walk’: They hug together and walk along in a little train,” Clay told Live Science.

Clay says that this behavior is more common in the sanctuary than it would be in the wild — possibly because bonobos are also exposed to embraces from their human caregivers — but it still does occur in bonobos’ natural lives. In fact, this behavior probably has roots in the maternal behavior of female bonobos, which cradle their infants when they are small. Researchers have observed that this hugging behavior is most common in young bonobos and typically occurs after a bonobo has experienced conflict or stress. Often, in these cases, a distressed bonobo will stretch out its arms in a beseeching gesture, and another bonobo will dramatically rush toward the squealing infant and encircle it in a tight embrace. 

“A bonobo might request [a hug], so they will seek someone out and sort of ask for help, or somebody might offer them one,” Clay said. 

Two bonobo juveniles hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary.
Two bonobo juveniles hug each other at Lola ya Bonobo Sanctuary. (Image credit: Anup Shah via Getty Images)

It’s difficult to judge animal emotions, but the evidence points to the likelihood that hugging reassures these primates, just as it does humans, Clay said. Intriguingly, in some of her previous research, Clay and her colleagues discovered that orphaned bonobos were less likely to offer sympathetic hugs to distressed peers, compared with young bonobos that had been reared by their mothers. This might indicate the importance of parental care in laying the foundation for this social gesture in primates, Clay said. 

Bonobos may be particularly fond of a good cuddle, but the maternal roots of this embrace make this behavior common across many other primate species. In many of these species, mothers hold their infants closely for extended periods of their infancy. 

For instance, chimpanzees (Pan troglodytes) — bonobos’ close relatives — are also known to embrace. This is especially notable in tense situations such as “border patrols,” when chimps rove around to assert their presence and protect their territories, Clay said. 

“If they hear a predator, or another chimpanzee group, or something scary, that’s when you’ll see them touching each other and holding on to each other,” Clay said. The hug seems to function as reassurance in the face of danger, Clay added — another relatable feature for humans, who typically reach for one another when afraid. 

Related: Do animals ever get sunburned?

In the case of crested black macaques (Macaca nigra), which live in Indonesia, hugging comes with an added flourish: These monkeys request hugs by audibly smacking their lips — an invitation that’s not reserved for family but extended generously to other members of the troop. 

In addition, young orangutans have been observed rushing to hug each other when confronted with the threat of a snake, thus emphasizing the hug’s apparently reassuring role in times of stress or fear. And in another macaque species, the Tonkean macaque (Macaca tonkeana), researchers have discovered that consoling hugs are plentiful after a fight — and may even be accompanied by a kiss. 

Proactive peacekeeping 

Most research on hugging in primates focuses on its assumed role in reassuring and consoling others — which makes sense, because this mirrors what hugs mean to humans. But research on the lives of spider monkeys reveals a different reason primates engage in these seemingly affectionate displays. 

Filippo Aureli is an ethologist — someone who studies animal behavior — and is affiliated with both the Universidad Veracruzana in Mexico and Liverpool John Moores University in the United Kingdom; he studies how spider monkeys use hugging not to recover from conflict but rather to prevent it. In research based on weeks of observing spider monkeys in the tropical forests of Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, he discovered that these primates approach each other and embrace more in scenarios in which tensions threaten to boil over into conflict — for instance, when two unfamiliar monkey subgroups meet after a long time apart and fuse to form a larger troop. Advertisement

“The embrace is done by individuals that have a problematic relationship,” said Aureli, who is an editor on a book about conflict resolution in animals. “They may need to be together, and they may need to cooperate — but they are not best friends. And so, the embrace is a way to send a signal and really manage that conflicted relationship.” He explained that because an embrace involves a high degree of vulnerability — after all, one animal is fully exposing its body to another — this “helps to clarify, ‘Hey, I come with good intentions.'” 

Related: Do animals laugh?

It’s possible that hugging as a means of proactive damage control occurs in other primates, as well. But currently, spider monkeys are the best-studied example of this aspect of the behavior, Aureli said. He described their embraces as “preemptive peacemaking,” and his study even suggests that humans could learn a thing or two from these careful creatures about how to manage conflict. “It’s much better to prevent than to repair,” Aureli said. 

Spider monkeys, including one cradling a baby, sit on a log.
Spider monkeys, including one cradling a baby, sit on a log. (Image credit: Michael Nunez / 500px)

Speaking of humans, how do our own hugs compare to those of other primates? “At the end of the day, we are primates, and affiliative contact is a superimportant component of our social life,” Clay said. “So, to me, there’s obvious continuity in some of the functions of embracing and hugging with humans.”

As in nonhuman primates, being held and embraced by our parents in our infancy sets us up for the reassuring, consoling function that hugs play in our lives. According to Clay, the one notable difference between our hugs and those of our primate kin is that humans seem to have layered more social symbolism onto the embrace. “I think the difference is that with humans, it’s become a kind of conventionalized greeting or parting gesture,” Clay said. “Apes don’t tend to do that.” 

Beyond primates

Of course, we have to be careful not to assume that hugging looks the same in other species as it does in humans. Hugs in primates are easy to identify because they look like ours, but other species may have hugs that appear different. Advertisementhttps://fcdf7a1a82e9344887b1a88ed294e24b.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

“If we identify the function of a hugging embrace, then really, the form could be completely different — maybe less fascinating for us as humans, because we don’t recognize it,” Aureli said. “But it could basically fulfill the same role.” 

Primate studies indicate that embraces function to bond, reassure, console and make peace, but hugs could have myriad analogues in other animals. For example, horses groom one another, and studies reveal that this activity decreases their heart rates — a hallmark of comfort and calm. Researchers have observed that if the prairie vole (Microtus ochrogaster) detects signs of distress in its mate, it will rush over and rapidly start grooming the mate’s fur; researchers have interpreted this behavior as a possible act of consolation. In birds, preening between pairs is thought to increase social bonds. RELATED MYSTERIES

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Lions (Panthera leorub heads and nuzzle, which is believed to boost their social connections. Hundreds of other mammal species lean against, nestle and huddle with one another to provide comfort and warmth, or to form a united front against danger — which might play a similar role to the steadying hug we see in primates. Meanwhile, dolphins seem to display a kind of consoling peacemaking behavior: Studies show that these cetaceans are more likely to engage in reconciliatory activities after a conflict — for instance, giving each other a flipper rub, or gently towing each other through the water, like an apologetic piggyback.

So, after the separation and stress brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, we might take heart in knowing that what humans know as a hug could have many equivalents in our fellow animals. All around the world, there are animals carrying out small acts of comfort and consolation, and making difficult situations a bit easier for one another. That thought is almost as comforting as a big, cozy hug itself. 

Originally published on Live Science.

Sharks Use Earth’s Magnetic Fields to Guide Them Like a Map – “It Really Is Mind Blowing”

TOPICS:Cell PressMarine BiologySharks

By CELL PRESS MAY 7, 2021

Bonnethead Shark Hunting at Night

Sea turtles are known for relying on magnetic signatures to find their way across thousands of miles to the very beaches where they hatched. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on May 6, 2021, have some of the first solid evidence that sharks also rely on magnetic fields for their long-distance forays across the sea.

“It had been unresolved how sharks managed to successfully navigate during migration to targeted locations,” said Save Our Seas Foundation project leader Bryan Keller, also of Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory. “This research supports the theory that they use the earth’s magnetic field to help them find their way; it’s nature’s GPS.”

Researchers had known that some species of sharks travel over long distances to reach very specific locations year after year. They also knew that sharks are sensitive to electromagnetic fields. As a result, scientists had long speculated that sharks were using magnetic fields to navigate. But the challenge was finding a way to test this in sharks.

“To be honest, I am surprised it worked,” Keller said. “The reason this question has been withstanding for 50 years is because sharks are difficult to study.”

This image shows an overhead shot of bonnetheads in the holding tank. Credit: Bryan Keller

Keller realized the needed studies would be easier to do in smaller sharks. They also needed a species known for returning each year to specific locations. He and his colleagues settled on bonnetheads (Sphyrna tiburo).

“The bonnethead returns to the same estuaries each year,” Keller said. “This demonstrates that the sharks knows where ‘home’ is and can navigate back to it from a distant location.”

The question then was whether bonnetheads managed those return trips by relying on a magnetic map. To find out, the researchers used magnetic displacement experiments to test 20 juvenile, wild-caught bonnetheads. In their studies, they exposed sharks to magnetic conditions representing locations hundreds of kilometers away from where the sharks were actually caught. Such studies allow for straightforward predictions about how the sharks should subsequently orient themselves if they were indeed relying on magnetic cues.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/FI8p3ZR914A?feature=oembed
This video is footage from an experimental trial, where the bonnethead’s swimming behavior is affected by the magnetic field it is experiencing. Credit: Bryan Keller

If sharks derive positional information from the geomagnetic field, the researchers predicted northward orientation in the southern magnetic field and southward orientation in the northern magnetic field, as the sharks attempted to compensate for their perceived displacement. They predicted no orientation preference when sharks were exposed to the magnetic field that matched their capture site. And, it turned out, the sharks acted as they’d predicted when exposed to fields within their natural range.

The researchers suggest that this ability to navigate based on magnetic fields may also contribute to the population structure of sharks. The findings in bonnetheads also likely help to explain impressive feats by other shark species. For instance, one great white shark was documented to migrate between South Africa and Australia, returning to the same exact location the following year.

This figure shows how the experiment assessed the ability of bonnethead sharks to use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate. Credit: Keller et al./Current Biology

“How cool is it that a shark can swim 20,000 kilometers round trip in a three-dimensional ocean and get back to the same site?” Keller asked. “It really is mind blowing. In a world where people use GPS to navigate almost everywhere, this ability is truly remarkable.”

In future studies, Keller says he’d like to explore the effects of magnetic fields from anthropogenic sources such as submarine cables on sharks. They’d also like to study whether and how sharks rely of magnetic cues not just during long-distance migration but also during their everyday behavior.

Reference: “Map-like use of Earth’s magnetic field in sharks” by Bryan A. Keller, Nathan F. Putman, R. Dean Grubbs, David S. Portnoy and Timothy P. Murphy, 6 May 2021, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.103

This work was supported by the Save Our Seas Foundation and the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.

TOPICS:Cell PressMarine BiologySharks

By CELL PRESS MAY 7, 2021

Bonnethead Shark Hunting at Night

Sea turtles are known for relying on magnetic signatures to find their way across thousands of miles to the very beaches where they hatched. Now, researchers reporting in the journal Current Biology on May 6, 2021, have some of the first solid evidence that sharks also rely on magnetic fields for their long-distance forays across the sea.

“It had been unresolved how sharks managed to successfully navigate during migration to targeted locations,” said Save Our Seas Foundation project leader Bryan Keller, also of Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory. “This research supports the theory that they use the earth’s magnetic field to help them find their way; it’s nature’s GPS.”

Researchers had known that some species of sharks travel over long distances to reach very specific locations year after year. They also knew that sharks are sensitive to electromagnetic fields. As a result, scientists had long speculated that sharks were using magnetic fields to navigate. But the challenge was finding a way to test this in sharks.

“To be honest, I am surprised it worked,” Keller said. “The reason this question has been withstanding for 50 years is because sharks are difficult to study.”

This image shows an overhead shot of bonnetheads in the holding tank. Credit: Bryan Keller

Keller realized the needed studies would be easier to do in smaller sharks. They also needed a species known for returning each year to specific locations. He and his colleagues settled on bonnetheads (Sphyrna tiburo).

“The bonnethead returns to the same estuaries each year,” Keller said. “This demonstrates that the sharks knows where ‘home’ is and can navigate back to it from a distant location.”

The question then was whether bonnetheads managed those return trips by relying on a magnetic map. To find out, the researchers used magnetic displacement experiments to test 20 juvenile, wild-caught bonnetheads. In their studies, they exposed sharks to magnetic conditions representing locations hundreds of kilometers away from where the sharks were actually caught. Such studies allow for straightforward predictions about how the sharks should subsequently orient themselves if they were indeed relying on magnetic cues.

https://www.youtube.com/embed/FI8p3ZR914A?feature=oembed
This video is footage from an experimental trial, where the bonnethead’s swimming behavior is affected by the magnetic field it is experiencing. Credit: Bryan Keller

If sharks derive positional information from the geomagnetic field, the researchers predicted northward orientation in the southern magnetic field and southward orientation in the northern magnetic field, as the sharks attempted to compensate for their perceived displacement. They predicted no orientation preference when sharks were exposed to the magnetic field that matched their capture site. And, it turned out, the sharks acted as they’d predicted when exposed to fields within their natural range.

The researchers suggest that this ability to navigate based on magnetic fields may also contribute to the population structure of sharks. The findings in bonnetheads also likely help to explain impressive feats by other shark species. For instance, one great white shark was documented to migrate between South Africa and Australia, returning to the same exact location the following year.

This figure shows how the experiment assessed the ability of bonnethead sharks to use the Earth’s magnetic field to navigate. Credit: Keller et al./Current Biology

“How cool is it that a shark can swim 20,000 kilometers round trip in a three-dimensional ocean and get back to the same site?” Keller asked. “It really is mind blowing. In a world where people use GPS to navigate almost everywhere, this ability is truly remarkable.”

In future studies, Keller says he’d like to explore the effects of magnetic fields from anthropogenic sources such as submarine cables on sharks. They’d also like to study whether and how sharks rely of magnetic cues not just during long-distance migration but also during their everyday behavior.

Reference: “Map-like use of Earth’s magnetic field in sharks” by Bryan A. Keller, Nathan F. Putman, R. Dean Grubbs, David S. Portnoy and Timothy P. Murphy, 6 May 2021, Current Biology.
DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2021.03.103

This work was supported by the Save Our Seas Foundation and the Florida State University Coastal and Marine Laboratory.

Human-like intelligence in animals is far more common than we thought

Stories of clever animals abound, from pigs playing video games to monkeys trading mobile phones – now tests reveal that they don’t merely act on instinct but can think flexibly, like usLIFE 7 April 2021

By David Robson

New Scientist Default Image
Brett Ryder

BARELY a month goes by without a new tale of animals behaving brightly. There are orangutans that craft umbrellas out of plant leaves, and chimps that employ stones as hammers with a technique that is uncannily similar to one seemingly used by our Stone Age ancestors. In Bali, long-tailed macaques steal from tourists and then exchange their swag for edible rewards – and they have learned to target high-value items as if they appreciate the basic principles of economics. Hyenas employ the art of deception, with low-status individuals sounding an alarm call that scares their rivals away from a tasty carcass. In one UK zoo, several parrots curse copiously, apparently to entertain visitors. Pigs have been taught to play video gamesrats can learn the rules of hide-and-seek, and let’s not forget the golfing bees.

Superficially, these behaviours certainly seem smart. But what do they really reveal about animal intelligence? The human mind is remarkable for its innovation and problem-solving across many different domains. Do other animals have the same sort of brains, or are their headline-grabbing antics no more than party tricks that require little complex reasoning?

Scientists have begun devising elaborate tests to tackle this question. Like our own IQ tests, they allow researchers to assess the capacity of an animal’s mind, compare the mental abilities of different individuals and identify factors that lead to superior performance. The findings have been a revelation. They provide some fascinating insights into the anatomy of intelligence. And they may even shed light on the evolutionary origins of our own minds.

Read more: https://www.newscientist.com/article/mg25033291-700-human-like-intelligence-in-animals-is-far-more-common-than-we-thought/#ixzz6tjUe85cU

After 2,500 Studies, It’s Time to Declare Animal Sentience Proven (Op-Ed)

https://www.livescience.com/39481-time-to-declare-animal-sentience.html?fbclid=IwAR0n1g4SkFxuJsvNyv37FQ5ClyT0MNcKB5KpiCBrogGusNSHEsHxyRFw1rc

By Marc Bekoff September 06, 2013

marine parks, protected areas, conservation, endangered species

A pair of imperial cormorants in courtship. Isla Ping (Image credit: G. Harris/Wildlife Conservation Society.)

Marc Bekoff, emeritus professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, is one of the pioneering cognitive ethologists in the United States, a Guggenheim Fellow, and co-founder with Jane Goodall of Ethologists for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. This essay is adapted from one that appeared in Bekoff’s column Animal Emotions in Psychology Today. He contributed this article to LiveScience’s Expert Voices: Op-Ed & Insights.

In June, during a series of lectures I presented in Germany, a number of people asked questions of the sort, “Isn’t it about time we accept that animals are sentient and that we know what they want and need? Shouldn’t we stop bickering about whether they are conscious, feel pain and experience emotions?”

Of course, this isn’t the first time I’ve heard those questions, and my answer is always a resounding, Yes. Scientists do have ample, detailed, empirical facts to declare that nonhuman animals are sentient beings, and with each study, there are fewer and fewer skeptics.

Many people, like those at the lectures in Germany, are incredibly frustrated that skeptics still deny what researchers know. Advocates for animal welfare want to know what society is going to do with the knowledge we have to help other animals live in a human-dominated world.RECOMMENDED VIDEOS FOR YOU…CLOSEhttps://imasdk.googleapis.com/js/core/bridge3.448.1_en.html#goog_1955747892Volume 0% PLAY SOUND

Declaring consciousness

As I was flying home, I thought of a previous essay I wrote called “Scientists Finally Conclude Nonhuman Animals Are Conscious Beings” in which I discussed the the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness that was publicly proclaimed on July 7, 2012, at that university. The scientists behind the declaration wrote, “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. Non-human animals, including all mammals and birds, and many other creatures, including octopuses, also possess these neurological substrates.”

They could also have included fish, for whom the evidence supporting sentience and consciousness is also compelling (see also). And, I’m sure as time goes on, researchers will add many other animals to the consciousness club.

A universal declaration on animal sentience

Based on the overwhelming and universal acceptance of the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness I offer here what I call a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience. For the purpose of this essay I am defining “sentience” as “the ability to feel, perceive, or be conscious, or to experience subjectivity” (for wide-ranging discussion please click here.)

I don’t offer any specific, geographic location for this declaration because, with very few exceptions, people worldwide — including researchers and non-researchers alike — accept that other animals are sentient beings.

One notable exception is Oxford University’s Marian Dawkins who continues to claim we still don’t know if other animals are conscious — using the same data as those who wrote the Cambridge Declaration on Consciousness. I call this Dawkins’s Dangerous Idea.

But, the Universal Declaration on Animal Welfare is instead based on what I believe is the indisputable fact that animals are sentient and that they can suffer and feel pain, as recognized by the Treaty of Lisbon and the rapidly growing field of compassionate conservation. Evidence of animal sentience is everywhere — the remaining questions are a matter of why sentience evolved, not if it evolved.

If you're a topical expert — researcher, business leader, author or innovator — and would like to contribute an op-ed piece, email us here.
If you’re a topical expert — researcher, business leader, author or innovator — and would like to contribute an op-ed piece, email us here.

Research supporting animal sentience

The database of research on animal sentience is strong and rapidly growing. Scientists know that individuals from a wide variety of species experience emotions ranging from joy and happiness to deep sadness, grief, and post-traumatic stress disorder, along with empathy, jealousy and resentment. There is no reason to embellish those experiences, because science is showing how fascinating they are (for example, mice, rats, and chickens display empathy) and countless other “surprises” are rapidly emerging.

A large amount of data are available on an interactive website called the “Sentience Mosaic” launched by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA; for more details please see also), which is dedicated to animal sentience.

An essay written by Helen Proctor and her colleagues at WSPA provides a systematic review of the scientific literature on sentience. The effort used a list of 174 keywords and the team reviewed more than 2,500 articles on animal sentience. They concluded: “Evidence of animal sentience is everywhere.”

Of particular interest is that Proctor and her colleagues also discovered “a greater tendency for studies to assume the existence of negative states and emotions in animals, such as pain and suffering, than positive ones like joy and pleasure.” This is consistent with the historical trend of people who readily denied emotions such as joy, pleasure and happiness to animals accepting that animals could be mad or angry (see also Helen Proctor’s “Animal Sentience: Where Are We and Where Are We Heading?“). There is also an upward trend in the number of articles published on animal sentience (identified using sentience-related keywords) from 1990 to 2011.

Solid evolutionary theory — namely, Charles Darwin’s ideas about evolutionary continuity in which he recognized that the differences among species in anatomical, physiological and psychological traits are differences in degree rather than kind — also supports the wide-ranging acceptance of animal sentience. There are shades of gray, not black and white differences, so if people have a trait, “they” (other animals) have it too. This is called evolutionary continuity and shows that it is bad biology to rob animals of the traits they clearly possess. One telling example: humans share with other mammals and vertebrates the same areas of the brain that are important for consciousness and processing emotions.

Humans are not uniquely sentient

People surely are not exceptional or alone in the arena of sentience. We need to abandon the anthropocentric view that only big-brained animals such as ourselves, nonhuman great apes, elephants and cetaceans (dolphins and whales) have sufficient mental capacities for complex forms of sentience and consciousness.

So, the interesting and challenging question is why has sentience evolved in diverse species, not if it has evolved. Its time to stop pretending that people dont know if other animals are sentient: We do indeed know what other animals want and need, and we must accept that fact.Advertisement

Nonhuman-animal minds aren’t as private as some people claim them to be. Surely, we might miss out on some of the nitty-gritty details, but it is safe to say that other animals want to live in peace and safety and absent from fear, pain and suffering, just as we do.

(Nonhuman animals even worry — despite the erroneous claim that they don’t, ample evidence shows they do worry about their well-being (“Do Animals Worry and Lose Sleep When They’re Troubled?“) and that excessive worrying and a lack of rest and sleep can be costly.)

While some people still claim that we do not know that other animals are sentient beings, countless animals continue to suffer in the most egregious ways as they are used and abused for research, education, food, clothing and entertainment. And indeed, animal sentience is assumed in many comparative studies and recent legislation — such as policies protecting chimpanzees from invasive research, based on what is known about these amazing sentient beings. [America’s Fleeting Chance to Correct Chimps’ Endangered Status]

Society really doesn’t need any additional invasive research to move on and strongly declare that other animals are sentient, though studies continue. For example, Farm Sanctuary has put out a call for proposals for observational research on the cognitive and emotional lives of farm animals. Some researchers are indeed looking into using brain imaging to access the minds of other animals (see for example Emory University’s Gregory Berns’s work with dogs; Dr. Berns told me that he now has 11 dogs who are “MRI-certified”).

Moving forward as a society

The time is now to shelve outdated and unsupported ideas about animal sentience and to factor sentience into all of the innumerable ways in which we encounter other animals. When the Cambridge Declaration was made public, there was a lot of pomp, champagne and media coverage. There is no need to have this fanfare for a Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience. It can be a deep, personal, and inspirational journey that comes from each of our hearts — and such a realization has a strong, and rapidly growing, evidence-based foundation.

The animals will be grateful and warmly thank us for paying attention to the science of animal sentience. When we listen to our hearts, we are recognizing how much we know about what other animals are feeling and that we owe it to them to protect them however we can. Please, let’s do it now. It is easy to do and we can do no less.

This article was adapted from “A Universal Declaration on Animal Sentience: No Pretending in Psychology Today. More of the author’s essays are available in “Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed” (New World Library, 2013). The views expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the publisher.This version of the article was originally published on LiveScience.

Bird Brains Are Far More Humanlike Than Once Thought

The avian cortex had been hiding in plain sight all along. Humans were just too birdbrained to see it

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/bird-brains-are-far-more-humanlike-than-once-thought/?fbclid=IwAR0v-08Trzz9-MQefjKv_DGieK0gU7hqeJhBZKf6zC3-Oe8ntSieo1Mf9ag

Bird Brains Are Far More Humanlike Than Once Thought
Credit: Gary Chalker Getty Images

With enough training, pigeons can distinguish between the works of Picasso and Monet. Ravens can identify themselves in a mirror. And on a university campus in Japan, crows are known to intentionally leave walnuts in a crosswalk and let passing traffic do their nut cracking. Many bird species are incredibly smart. Yet among intelligent animals, the “bird brain” often doesn’t get much respect.

Two papers published today in Science find birds actually have a brain that is much more similar to our complex primate organ than previously thought. For years it was assumed that the avian brain was limited in function because it lacked a neocortex. In mammals, the neocortex is the hulking, evolutionarily modern outer layer of the brain that allows for complex cognition and creativity and that makes up most of what, in vertebrates as a whole, is called the pallium. The new findings show that birds’ do, in fact, have a brain structure that is comparable to the neocortex despite taking a different shape. It turns out that at a cellular level, the brain region is laid out much like the mammal cortex, explaining why many birds exhibit advanced behaviors and abilities that have long befuddled scientists. The new work even suggests that certain birds demonstrate some degree of consciousness.

The mammalian cortex is organized into six layers containing vertical columns of neurons that communicate with one another both horizontally and vertically. The avian brain, on the other hand, was thought to be arranged into discrete collections of neurons called nuclei, including a region called the dorsal ventricular ridge, or DVR, and a single nucleus named the wulst.https://e80c6291491128d9c5bbe61cb3987e4e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlADVERTISEMENT

In one of the new papers, senior author Onur Güntürkün, a neuroscientist at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, and his colleagues analyzed regions of the DVR and wulst involved in sound and vision processing. To do so, they used a technology called three-dimensional polarized light imaging, or 3D-PLI—a light-based microscopy technique that can be employed to visualize nerve fibers in brain samples. The researchers found that in both pigeons and barn owls, these brain regions are constructed much like our neocortex, with both layerlike and columnar organization—and with both horizontal and vertical circuitry. They confirmed the 3D-PLI findings using biocytin tracing, a technique for staining nerve cells.

[In a Scientific American article, Güntürkün describes how the avian brain demonstrates surprising cognitive abilities.]

“We can now claim that this layered, corticallike organization is indeed a feature of the whole sensory forebrain in most, if not all, birds,” says Martin Stacho, co-lead author of the study and Güntürkün’s colleague at Ruhr University Bochum.

“It’s not that the DVR is the neocortex,” says Vanderbilt University neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel, who wrote a commentary accompanying the two new papers and was not involved in either of them, “but rather that the whole of the pallium in mammals and in birds has similar developmental origins and connectivity, and therefore [the pallia of both classes] should be considered equivalent structures. Stacho shows that settling for what the naked eye sees can be misleading.”

The idea that the DVR was somehow related to the neocortex was proposed in the 1960s by neuroscientist Harvey Karten. Yet it didn’t stick. Others subsequently claimed the DVR actually corresponded with other mammalian brain regions, including the amygdala, which, among other tasks, carries out the processing of emotion. “The theory about a DVR [correlation] has been possibly one of the biggest disputes in the field of comparative neurobiology,” Stacho says. But his new work lends credibility to Karten’s original hypothesis.https://e80c6291491128d9c5bbe61cb3987e4e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlADVERTISEMENT

Stacho and his colleagues think the findings also represent a glimpse into ancient animal brain evolution. The last common ancestor of birds and mammals was a reptile that roamed the earth around 320 million years ago. And its brain, the team believes, was probably a precursor to that of the two lineages that diverged through evolution. “Nobody knows how exactly the brain of the last common ancestor looked like,” Stacho says. “Most likely, it wasn’t like the neocortex or the DVR. It was probably something in between that, in mammals, developed to a six-layered neocortex and, in birds, to the wulst and DVR.”

The other new paper, by a group at the University of Tübingen in Germany, lends still more insight into the avian brain, suggesting that birds have some ability for sensory consciousness—subjective experiences in which they recall sensory experiences. Consciousness has long been thought to be localized in the cerebral cortex of smart primates—namely, chimps, bonobos and us humans. Yet crows appear to have at least a rudimentary form of sensory consciousness.

In the Tübingen group’s experiment, two carrion crows were trained to recall a previous experience to guide their behavior. When their training was completed, they went through a testing phase in which a gray square might appear followed by either a red or blue square 2.5 seconds later. In this exercise, the crows were trained to move their head if they saw a gray square and then a red one. And they learned to keep their head still if they saw a gray square and then a blue one. When the birds saw no stimulus followed by the appearance of a colored square, the sequence was reversed: blue signaled them to move their head, and red told them not to. So to correctly respond to the colored squares, the crows had to recall whether or not they had seen a gray one first—equating to a past subjective experience.

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It was crucial to the experiment to present the gray square in six different intensities, including at the threshold of the birds’ perception. This way, lead author and neurobiologist Andreas Nieder and his colleagues could confirm that the crows were not simply carrying out conditioned responses to stimuli but instead drawing on a subjective experience.

Further, by implanting electrodes in an avian brain region called the nidopallium caudolaterale (NCL), the researchers were able to monitor activity of individual neurons in response to the stimuli. When the crows viewed a dim gray square at their perceptual threshold, NCL neurons became active in the period between that stimulus and the presentation of a colored square—but only if the crows reported seeing the gray one. If they could not detect that square, the neurons remained silent. This result suggests a unique subjective experience was being manifested through neuronal activity.https://e80c6291491128d9c5bbe61cb3987e4e.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.htmlADVERTISEMENT

Nieder does not claim crows have the self-conscious existence and self-awareness of apes but simply that the birds can partake in a unique, multipart sensory experience in response to a stimulus. “I am generally not a big fan of ascribing complex humanlike cognitive states to animals and prefer to maintain a conservative attitude,” he says. “Humans easily start to project their own mental states to other living (or even nonliving) beings. But in terms of sensory consciousness in other species, it is probably fair to assume that advanced vertebrates, such as mammals and birds, possess it.”

Nieder’s team’s findings suggest that the neural underpinnings of sensory consciousness either were in place before mammals evolved or developed independently in both lineages—with the avian line showing that being conscious does not necessarily depend on a bulky cerebral cortex.

Work by Herculano-Houzel demonstrates that the brains of corvids—members of a family of so-called “smart birds” such as crows, ravens and magpies—are very densely populated with interconnected neurons. Her studies jibe with the new Science papers. “With Güntürkün’s findings that pallium connectivity is indeed very similar between birds and mammals…, it all comes together very nicely,” she says, pointing out that the corvid pallium holds about as many neurons as you’d find in primates with a much larger brain.

This latest research also undercuts primate exceptionalism. “I hope that more people will be tempted to drop the notion that there is something very unique and exclusive about the human brain,” Herculano-Houzel says.

Bird Brains Are Far More Humanlike Than Once Thought

The avian cortex had been hiding in plain sight all along. Humans were just too birdbrained to see it

Bird Brains Are Far More Humanlike Than Once Thought
Credit: Gary Chalker Getty Images

With enough training, pigeons can distinguish between the works of Picasso and Monet. Ravens can identify themselves in a mirror. And on a university campus in Japan, crows are known to intentionally leave walnuts in a crosswalk and let passing traffic do their nut cracking. Many bird species are incredibly smart. Yet among intelligent animals, the “bird brain” often doesn’t get much respect.10 Sec

Two papers published today in Science find birds actually have a brain that is much more similar to our complex primate organ than previously thought. For years it was assumed that the avian brain was limited in function because it lacked a neocortex. In mammals, the neocortex is the hulking, evolutionarily modern outer layer of the brain that allows for complex cognition and creativity and that makes up most of what, in vertebrates as a whole, is called the pallium. The new findings show that birds’ do, in fact, have a brain structure that is comparable to the neocortex despite taking a different shape. It turns out that at a cellular level, the brain region is laid out much like the mammal cortex,explaining why many birds exhibit advanced behaviors and abilities that have long befuddled scientists. The new work even suggests that certain birds demonstrate some degree of consciousness.

The mammalian cortex is organized into six layers containing vertical columns of neurons that communicate with one another both horizontally and vertically. The avian brain, on the other hand, was thought to be arranged into discrete collections of neurons called nuclei, including a region called the dorsal ventricular ridge, or DVR, and a single nucleus named the wulst.https://237a45e067e8a3c1a268e2ca88227257.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlADVERTISEMENT

In one of the new papers, senior author Onur Güntürkün, a neuroscientist at Ruhr University Bochum in Germany, and his colleagues analyzed regions of the DVR and wulst involved in sound and vision processing. To do so, they used a technology called three-dimensional polarized light imaging, or 3D-PLI—a light-based microscopytechnique that can be employed to visualize nerve fibers in brain samples. The researchers found that in both pigeons and barn owls, these brain regions are constructed much like our neocortex, with both layerlike and columnar organization—and with both horizontal and vertical circuitry. They confirmed the 3D-PLI findings using biocytin tracing, a technique for staining nerve cells.

[In a Scientific American article, Güntürkün describes how the avian brain demonstrates surprising cognitive abilities.]

“We can now claim that this layered, corticallike organization is indeed a feature of the whole sensory forebrain in most, if not all, birds,” says Martin Stacho, co-lead author of the study and Güntürkün’s colleague at Ruhr University Bochum.

“It’s not that the DVR is the neocortex,” says Vanderbilt University neuroscientist Suzana Herculano-Houzel, who wrote a commentary accompanying the two new papers and was not involved in either of them, “but rather that the whole of the pallium in mammals and in birds has similar developmental origins and connectivity, and therefore [the pallia of both classes] should be considered equivalent structures. Stacho shows that settling for what the naked eye sees can be misleading.”

The idea that the DVR was somehow related to the neocortex was proposed in the 1960s by neuroscientist Harvey Karten. Yet it didn’t stick. Others subsequently claimed the DVR actually corresponded with other mammalian brain regions, including the amygdala, which, among other tasks, carries out the processing of emotion. “The theory about a DVR [correlation] has been possibly one of the biggest disputes in the field of comparative neurobiology,” Stacho says. But his new work lends credibility to Karten’s original hypothesis.https://237a45e067e8a3c1a268e2ca88227257.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.htmlADVERTISEMENT

Stacho and his colleagues think the findings also represent a glimpse into ancient animal brain evolution. The last common ancestor of birds and mammals was a reptile that roamed the earth around 320 million years ago. And its brain, the team believes, was probably a precursor to that of the two lineages that diverged through evolution. “Nobody knows how exactly the brain of the last common ancestor looked like,” Stacho says. “Most likely, it wasn’t like the neocortex or the DVR. It was probably something in between that, in mammals, developed to a six-layered neocortex and, in birds, to the wulst and DVR.”

The other new paper, by a group at the University of Tübingen in Germany, lends still more insight into the avian brain, suggesting that birds have some ability for sensory consciousness—subjective experiences in which they recall sensory experiences. Consciousness has long been thought to be localized in the cerebral cortex of smart primates—namely, chimps, bonobos and us humans. Yet crows appear to have at least a rudimentary form of sensory consciousness.

In the Tübingen group’s experiment, two carrion crows were trained to recall a previous experience to guide their behavior. When their training was completed, they went through a testing phase in which a gray square might appear followed by either a red or blue square 2.5 seconds later. In this exercise, the crows were trained to move their head if they saw a gray square and then a red one. And they learned to keep their head still if they saw a gray square and then a blue one. When the birds saw no stimulus followed by the appearance of a colored square,the sequence was reversed: blue signaled them to move their head, and red told them not to. So to correctly respond to the colored squares, the crows had to recall whether or not they had seen a gray one first—equating to a past subjective experience.

newsletter promo

It was crucial to the experiment to present the gray square in six different intensities, including at the threshold of the birds’ perception. This way, lead author and neurobiologist Andreas Nieder and his colleagues could confirm that the crows were not simply carrying out conditioned responses to stimuli but instead drawing on a subjective experience.

Further, by implanting electrodes in an avian brain region called the nidopallium caudolaterale (NCL), the researchers were able to monitor activity of individual neurons in response to the stimuli. When the crows viewed a dim gray square at their perceptual threshold, NCL neurons became active in the period between that stimulus and the presentation of a colored square—but only if the crows reported seeing the gray one. If they could not detect that square, the neurons remained silent. This result suggests a unique subjective experience was being manifested through neuronal activity.ADVERTISEMENT

Nieder does not claim crows have the self-conscious existence and self-awareness of apes but simply that the birds can partake in a unique, multipart sensory experience in response to a stimulus. “I am generally not a big fan of ascribing complex humanlike cognitive states to animals and prefer to maintain a conservative attitude,” he says. “Humans easily start to project their own mental states to other living (or even nonliving) beings. But in terms of sensory consciousness in other species, it is probably fair to assume that advanced vertebrates, such as mammals and birds, possess it.”

Nieder’s team’s findings suggest that the neural underpinnings of sensory consciousness either were in place before mammals evolved or developed independently in both lineages—with the avian line showing that being conscious does not necessarily depend on a bulky cerebral cortex.

Work by Herculano-Houzel demonstrates that the brains of corvids—members of a family of so-called “smart birds” such as crows, ravens and magpies—are very densely populated with interconnected neurons. Her studies jibe with the new Science papers. “With Güntürkün’s findings that pallium connectivity is indeed very similar between birds and mammals…, it all comes together very nicely,” she says, pointing out that the corvid pallium holds about as many neurons as you’d find in primates with a much larger brain.

This latest research also undercuts primate exceptionalism. “I hope that more people will be tempted to drop the notion that there is something very unique and exclusive about the human brain,” Herculano-Houzel says.

Elk And German Shepherd Play ‘Tag’ On Different Sides Of The Fence

Strangers are just friends you haven’t met yet – and nobody embodies this philosophy better than a dog. Our pets are incredibly amiable, and they mix well with others. You can put a dog into any situation, and they will come out with a new BFF. 

The staff working for the Colorado Parks and Wildlife are often subject to nature scenes playing out all around them. But there was one in particular that really touched their hearts as it has been going on for several years. Every year, there is a herd of elk that passes through. One of the park’s officer’s dog, Trygge, has become friends with one of the elk.

It has turned into a friendship that results in a friendly game of tag every year that they see one another. The staff have been quite taken by the way that the German Shepherd and the giant bull elk interact with one another. They’ve never shown aggression towards one another, just a mutual respect and a joy at seeing one another. 

Watch them below:https://platform.twitter.com/embed/index.html?creatorScreenName=cesarmillan&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1204464563942412288&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cesarsway.com%2Felk-and-german-shepherd-play-tag-on-different-sides-of-the-fence%2F&siteScreenName=cesarmillan&theme=light&widgetsVersion=223fc1c4%3A1596143124634&width=550px

Huge black bear spotted relaxing in a pool is one big summer mood

By Lauren M. Johnson, CNN

https://www.cnn.com/2020/07/25/us/huge-black-bear-in-pool-trnd/index.html

Updated 2:10 PM ET, Sat July 25, 2020A large black bear wandered into Regina Keller's yard and decided to stay awhile. A large black bear wandered into Regina Keller’s yard and decided to stay awhile.

(CNN)A woman in Virginia was delighted when a large black bear decided to take a nap in a kiddie pool she had in her backyard.Regina Keller, no stranger to bears, has been taking pictures of the wildlife in her backyard for 12 years.Her home is remote and backs up to the George Washington National Forest in Fort Valley, Virginia, so she is used to a variety of furry visitors including deer, bears, foxes, and squirrels.On July 19, she was watering her flowers when a large male bear wandered into her yard.

Do Animals Think or Feel?

Research shows cows are bright and emotional and pigs are intelligent, emotional, and cognitively complex

“…the question is not, Can they reason? nor, Can they talk? but, Can they suffer? Why should the law refuse its protection to any sensitive being?” —Jeremy Bentham

An email about a report called OFA [Ontario Federation of Agriculture] submission to the Standing Committee on General Government regarding the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act (Bill 156), which contained a quotation emphatically stating, “We simply do not know if animals are capable of reasoning and cognitive thought,” shocked me. I immediately read through the report and lo and behold, the authors did make this unscientific and ludicrous claim. And, not surprisingly, there isn’t a single citation in the entire in-house report.

Here is the full quotation, because I don’t want people to think I’m fabricating what these thoroughly uninformed people wrote.

“The concept of ‘sentient beings’ refers to beings with the power to reason and think. The term also implies beings with an awareness of their surroundings who respond to sensations, have cognitive thoughts and have the capacity to perceive and experience life subjectively. Feeling is a subjective state, available only to the animal feeling it. As animals and humans are built and function differently, it is unfair to automatically attribute the sensations experienced by humans to be the same as those experienced by animals. Humans have the ability to communicate their experiences, and what they feel. Since animals cannot communicate with us, there’s a huge assumption by animal activists that animals have emotional responses and the ability to reason and think, in the same way that humans do. We simply do not know if animals are capable of reasoning and cognitive thought, therefore we cannot attribute human qualities of reasoning and cognitive thought on animals as the activists would like.” (My emphasis) —OFA [Ontario Federation of Agriculture] submission to the Standing Committee on General Government regarding the Security from Trespass and Protecting Food Safety Act (Bill 156)

When I read this, I was shocked. It’s clearly anti-science given what we know about the cognitive and emotional lives of numerous diverse nonhuman animals (animals), including so-called “food animals.”And it’s also extremely misleading because humans shouldn’t be the templates against which nonhumans should be measured. Few people criticize studies of animal cognition and emotions because nonhumans don’t resemble or equal humans. There’s no reason they should.

People who know anything about the field of cognitive ethology (the comparative study of animal minds and what’s in them) pay careful attention to what other animals know and feel, capacities and adaptations that allow them to be card-carrying members of their speciesnot ours (or that of other nonhumans). Intelligence is a slippery concept and should not be used to assess suffering. Asking if chickens suffer less than pigs, or if pigs are as smart as dogs, is meaningless and idle speciesism.

In addition, the way in which people treat or mistreat other animals and how they feel about it isn’t a matter of how smart they are. Rather, nonhumans are sentient beings, and it’s a matter of how they suffer, not if they suffer. So-called dumb animals experience deep and prolonged suffering, and, in fact, they’re not really dumb!

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture claims we don’t know if nonhumans think, so therefore they don’t. Both are anti-science, defy reality, and are inane. Animal sentience and animal emotions matter very much; animal sentience is not science fiction, and the life of every single individual matters because they’re alive and have intrinsic or inherent value. They don’t matter because of what’s called their instrumental value—what they can do for us.

I wanted to know more about what was happening on the ground in Ontario, so I contacted Camille Labchuk, a lawyer and the Executive Director of Animal Justice. Here’s some of what she wrote. The Canadian province of Ontario is currently trying to ram through an ag-gag law in the midst of a pandemic. The bill would outlaw whistleblower exposés on farms and in slaughterhouses, and is fiercely opposed by animal advocacy organizations, consumer protection groups, civil libertarians, and journalists. Instead of acknowledging their own wrongdoing, the response from the powerful farming industry has been to lobby for so-called ag-gag laws that make it illegal to film and expose cruelty in the first place. The legislative hearings on Ontario’s ag-gag bill have given us a rare glimpse of the utter indifference that many farmers still have for animal suffering, and indeed their denial of basic science about the emotional and cognitive abilities of animals.

Canada unfortunately has some of the worst animal protection laws in the Western world, and Ontario’s ag-gag bill is about to make a bad situation far worse. Governments do not regulate animal welfare conditions on farms, and farmers are typically exempt from general animal cruelty laws. Farmers engage in a variety of standard yet painful practices with impunity, such as slicing off chicken beaks and piglet tails without anesthesia. To make matters worse, there is no public inspection of animal facilities. With no legal standards to enforce, what would be the point? Instead, the farm industry is left to make up its own rules.

Most people have compassion for animals but are often unaware of how badly animals suffer on farms. When they learn the truth, their trust in the farming industry plummets, and they consider dietary changes to avoid contributing to suffering.

Where have all the science and scientists gone? 

As a scientist, I often wonder: Where have all the science and scientists gone, and why hasn’t every scientist spoken out against such trash. Why aren’t they outraged by OFA’s utter nonsense? And the OFA isn’t alone in putting forth such junk. In the United States, laboratory rats and mice and other fully sentient animals aren’t considered to be animals under the guidelines of the Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA). No joke. The science that clearly shows these rodents are sentient beings continues to be totally ignored.1,2

To summarize, who (not what) we eat is a moral question and scientists must speak out. Concerning the notion of who we eat, Ms. Labchuk writes, “Of course, considering the ‘who’ is a massive public relations problem for farmers. The meat industry’s business model depends on ignoring their suffering by crowding chickens raised for meat into dark, windowless warehouses; stuffing egg-laying hens into tiny battery cages; and confining mother pigs in gestation crates so small that they can’t even turn around or play with their babies. Animals are trucked to slaughter when their short lives are over. The victims of the meat industry have few opportunities to experience positive emotional states, and experience significant pain and suffering.”

The Ontario Federation of Agriculture’s conceptualization of the cognitive and emotional lives of clearly sentient beings is pure fiction and should be read as such. Their misguided views support and will continue to perpetuate the extremely cruel and brutal treatment of “food animals” and ignore a wealth of scientific data. It’s high time to bridge the “knowledge translation gap” and use what we know to truly help other animals. The “knowledge translation gap” refers to the practice of ignoring tons of science showing that nonhumans are sentient beings and going ahead and causing intentional harm in human-oriented arenas.

How we treat these and other clearly sentient nonhumans isn’t necessarily a matter of rights. Rather, it’s a matter of decency and depends on using what we know—and have known for a long time—on the animals’ behalf. Indeed, we are obligated to do so.

References

Notes:

1) Here are some essays on the emotional lives of so-called “food animals.”

On World Day for Farmed Animals, Let’s Honor Who They Are.

Going “Cold Tofu” to End Factory Farming.

What Would a Mother “Food” Cow Tell Us About Her Children?

Cows: Science Shows They’re Bright and Emotional Individuals. (A new essay reviews the detailed science that demonstrates bovine sentience.)

Is an Unnamed Cow Less Sentient Than a Named Cow?

The Cow’s Nose Shows How They’re Feeling About Life.

Do Cows Moo “Get me the Hell out of Here” on Factory Farms?

The Emotional Lives of Cows: Ears Tell Us They’re Feeling OK.

Dead Cow Walking: The Case Against Born-Again Carnivorism.

Happy Cows: A Heart-Warming Video Offers an Important Lesson. (Watch rescued cows free to run gallop around with unmistakable joy and glee.)

Babe, Lettuce, and Tomato: Dead Pig Walking.

Pigs Are Intelligent, Emotional, and Cognitively Complex.

Are Pigs as Smart as Dogs and Does It Really Matter? (Intelligence is a slippery concept and should not be used to assess suffering.)

Why Sheep Matter: They’re Intelligent, Emotional, and Unique.

Sheep Discriminate Faces, So What’s In It For the Sheep?

The Rich Emotional Lives of Chimpanzees and Goats.

The World According to Intelligent and Emotional Chickens.

The Thanksgiving Day Massacre: A House of Horrors.

2) In the 2002 iteration of the United States Federal Animal Welfare Act (AWA) we read, “Enacted January 23, 2002, Title X, Subtitle D of the Farm Security and Rural Investment Act, changed the definition of ‘animal’ in the Animal Welfare Act, specifically excluding birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research.