The cute bottle-nosed creatures in the sea have now been classified as “Non-human persons”. What does this mean? It implies recognising their human-like traits.

Close your eyes. Imagine the vast blue ocean and think of your favourite sea creature. Did you see the face of a cute, bottle-nosed dolphin with a wide grin spread across his face? Fun-loving, gentle and sensitive, the dolphin is an amazing mammal said to possess unusually high intelligence. Recent research suggests that the mammal’s squeaks and clicks may be a form of communication and that some signature whistles could also be ways for the dolphin to identify itself and call out to each other. What does this mean? It implies that dolphins, much like humans, name each other and call out to each other using these names!

Dolphins are truly out of the ordinary because of their intelligence. And, among the many creatures that share the Earth with us, they come closest to humankind in terms of familial traits, emotions and learning. Just like us, dolphins live in groups called pods that they consider family. The feeling of community within a pod is intense. The dolphins in a pod care for the sick, elderly or injured and grieve just like humans. Like us, they are also social mammals who enjoy the company of dolphins from other pods, and sometimes even tease the sea creatures in their vicinity. Dolphins nurse their babies like humans and young ones remain with their mothers for almost three years, before swimming off to start their own family.

Cetaceans have rights!

Dolphins belong to the family of cetaceans. Whales and porpoises are also a part of the Cetacean family. At a conference held in Helsinki, Finland in 2010, it was proposed that Cetaceans be given a set of rights — just like the ones humans enjoy — that entitled them to the right of life, freedom of movement within their natural environment; banning their ownership by any government or organisation.

As a result, earlier this year, the Indian Ministry of Environment and Forests, recognising the human-like traits of dolphins, declared dolphins as “non-human persons”, banning their captivity for public entertainment in the country. This means that no entity in the country can confine dolphins to small show spaces where they can be used to entertain humans with their dances and songs. Calling dolphins highly intelligent and sensitive, the Ministry said that it was immoral to keep dolphins captive for entertainment and that they should have their own rights.

Dolphins in mythology

Amazing as it is to imagine that dolphins and other cetaceans could soon be entitled to their own rights, mythology tells us that these creatures enjoyed a will of their own. The dolphin is depicted in many Greek stories as a seafaring creature that guided ships and helped sailors on long, treacherous journeys.

According to one particular Greek myth, dolphins have “human” qualities because they were once humans themselves. The story goes that the Greek God Dionysus was travelling the oceans when he was captured by pirates who mistook him for a royal member. The pirates chained the God to the ship’s mast and rowed towards Turkey dreaming of a rich ransom. Unobserved, Dionysus broke out of his chains and started playing his flute.

As he played his song, grape vines entwined the ship’s mast and the oars turned into serpents. Frightened the pirates threw themselves overboard and started to drown. However, Dionysus took pity on them and turned them into dolphins, blessing them with the ability to help and guide other seafarers in the future.

This is why even today the sighting of a dolphin is welcomed by seamen as a sign that a safe harbour is nearby. There are stories of dolphins, in both mythology and otherwise, using their flippers to show sailors the way to safety. Sailors, in turn, are known to enjoy the company of these mammals and often indulge them by singing to them or playing the flute.

Quick facts

The Killer Whale is the largest member of the dolphin family. It can grow up to 30 feet in length.

The average lifespan of a dolphin is 17 years. However, some of them have been observed to live up to 50 years in the wild.

There are about 100 teeth in the mouth of a dolphin. They use the teeth to grab their prey but don’t chew it. Food is always swallowed whole.

Only one side of the dolphin’s brain sleeps at a time. This allows them to be able to breathe and watch out for food even when they are resting.

There are almost 40 species of dolphins in 17 genera. The smallest dolphin is about 4 feet long and the longest is about 30 feet long. Dolphins can weigh from 90 pounds to more than 11 tons.