Tag Archive | "animal self recognition"

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What does SeaWorld do with its Orcas?

Posted on 27 May 2016 by Jerry

SeaWorld gave up after years of fighting with liberals, resisting pressure from People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) amongst others, and reacting to the blow-back from public reaction to the movie “Blackfish” which criticized its handling of the Orcas in its care. SeaWorld Entertainment announced it would end its Orca performances in San Diego.

The orca or killer whale is actually the largest member of the oceanic dolphin family, a water borne family of mammals. Considered apex predators they have no animal that preys on them. We have explored in depth the intellectual capabilities of dolphins and easily extend those capabilities to the orcas. They are smart animals that are used to ranging wide in the open ocean (as much as 160 kilometers in a day).

We assume there are plans to continue performances in Orlando, Florida and San Antonio, Texas because there are no reports of a change in its plans. By agreement with the Humane Society of the United States, SeaWorld Entertainment said they are completely ceasing their orca-breeding program. They face a problem and great controversy in the question of what to do with an orca that is borne and raised or has existed almost entirely in captivity.

The two sides of the argument are those who favor releasing the orcas into the open ocean and those who believe SeaWorld should build sea pens in which to keep the orcas until they die or keep them in the same enclosures they presently inhabit. Unfortunately the past history of orcas that have been released or found their way into the open ocean is not good.

A prime example is Keiko who was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1979 and the star of the “Free Willy” movie. After several years performing at a Mexico City theme park, Keiko in 1998 was transported to a sea pen in Iceland. The sea pen was 250 feet long, 100 feet wide and 30 feet high.

On one of its excursions outside its sea pen, while accompanied by its caretakers on a ship, Keiko later swam away. He was later spotted in a deep inlet in Norway where he was playing with fishermen and their children. Keiko later died of pneumonia.

SeaWorld points to Keiko as an example of a whale that while caught in the wild did not survive being returned to the open ocean. Detractors would disagree in the sense that Keiko was close to his natural age and was not in his sea sanctuary when he died.

SeaWorld’s CEO summed up the Keiko experience by saying, “Never in the history of mankind has an orca born under human care survived in a release to the wild. Even though Keiko was born in the wild and millions were spent preparing him for release, after being released he died from pneumonia and starvation. We are not going to take this risk with SeaWorld’s whales.”

While SeaWorld made the right decision to suspend its orca performances in San Diego, it needs to affirmatively suspend all performances of orcas at every facility. It also made the right decision to halt its breeding program at all SeaWorld sites. It has a dilemma facing it now with its decision of what to do with its orcas.

With a lot of people on both sides of the argument, it faces a real quandary as to what to do. The writer believes that continuing the performances at SeaWorld should not happen and that the orcas should be housed in sea pens that are specially designed for them. I don’t believe the Keiko pen was big enough for orca health and satisfaction but I also do not support release in the open ocean since it would mean certain death for many of SeaWorld’s orcas.

What is your opinion about what should be done with the remaining 23 or so SeaWorld orcas? Should SeaWorld keep having orca performances? Should SeaWorld continue their confinement to their present facilities? Should sea pens be provided or should they be released to the open ocean? Please let us know your views by appending your comments and questions to this article.

Use the following links to obtain more information about the orcas or access the original stories that served as the basis of this article.

http://www.nytimes.com/2015/11/10/business/seaworld-san-diego-killer-whales-shamu-show.html?_r=0

http://us.whales.org/wdc-in-action/fate-of-captive-orcas

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2015/nov/09/seaworld-end-orca-whale-shows-san-diego

http: //www.usatoday.com/story/money/2015/11/09/seaworld-killer-whales-orca-shows/75461780/

http://www.latimes.com/business/la-fi-seaworld-sea-pens-20160317-htmlstory.html

http://www.kpbs.org/news/2016/mar/17/seaworld-will-not-breed-orcas-phase-out-orca-shows/

http://phys.org/news/2016-04-scientists-bemoan-seaworld-decision-orcas.html

http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/03/17/470720804/seaworld-agrees-to-end-captive-breeding-of-killer-whales

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-seaworld-killer-whale-breeding-20160404-story.html

http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2016/03/seaworld-stops-breeding-orcas-what-are-impacts-research

http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/apr/27/seaworld-free-captive-orcas-jean-michel-cousteau

https://www.thedodo.com/seaworld-orcas-sea-sanctuaries-pens-1700373682.html

https://www.yahoo.com/news/seaworld-trying-block-shareholder-vote-whale-sanctuary-peta-023950588–sector.html?ref=gs

http://www.esquire.com/news-politics/news/a42458/seaworld-animal-rights-groups/

 

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Monkeys/Mammals Are Smarter Than We Thought

Posted on 19 July 2015 by Jerry

It has been said for years that only great apes (but not gorillas) are self aware as proven by their passing the mirror and mark tests (read Beyond Animal, Ego and Time).  But now other monkeys, especially rhesus monkeys, are showing they can be taught to recognize themselves in a mirror.  This means they can be self aware if trained to be so.  While we don’t know if the capability in monkeys is age dependent, we do know the human being develops the ability to recognize itself at about two years of age.

It has also proven true that once these rhesus monkeys are taught self-recognition when they look in a mirror, they explore other parts of their bodies they don’t normally see.  For many years, mirror self-recognition has been a mark of higher intelligence in humans.  With this new knowledge about monkeys, we will have to change our views of our monkey brethren and ourselves.

In addition it has been shown that monkeys in the wild can teach themselves new skills by watching videotapes of other monkeys performing desired tasks.  While this appears to be another demonstration of copying behavior, “monkey see, monkey do”, researchers indicate this is the first time video tapes have been used for teaching purposes outside the laboratory.

An array of recent studies show that all mammals share a need to have close friends they can count on in difficult times.  These results generalize for humans that friendships are essential to ongoing health and are key to a helping hand when we really need it.

An April 7, 2012 article in Science News quotes Catherine Crockford of the University of St. Andrews in Scotland who stated “Knowing this about mammals is sort of a reminder to us, that we can eat as much good food as we want or have as much money as we want, but if we don’t have at least one or two close relationships that we can depend on, life is going to be more difficult for us.”

This is true for all sorts of animals who have shown they will go outside familial relationships to build alliances with other animals.  While this is true for humans, it also includes chimps and all kinds of monkeys.  Beyond chimps, we can see this behavior from female rhesus macaques, baboons, and bonobos.  We see reciprocal grooming, help protecting young animals from pressure or threat from male animals, and the hormone oxytocin as common links that create this bonding.  This type of cooperation stretches to female horses, African elephants, dolphins, and hyenas.

These developments and new knowledge should cause us to reexamine our relationships with others.  We should reach out to others to create the unions described for our own betterment.  We also should realize that creating these types of alliances are ingrained and hereditary amongst all mammals.   These insights give us knowledge of the bonds that are possible with our own kind all over the world.

Use the following links to obtain additional information or access original documents used as background for this article.

http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/01/150108130047.htm

http://rsbl.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/10/9/20140439

http://www.nature.com/nature/journal/v513/n7517/full/513146a.html

http://www.sciencenews.org/article/furry-friends-forever

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Ongoing Battle For Sentient Animals

Posted on 12 February 2014 by Jerry

Researchers have identified a group of animals that have greater intellectual and emotional faculties, for example human beings, elephants, porpoises, great apes, and a family of birds known as Corvids.  (See Beyond Animal, Ego and Time Chapter 6, Human Uniqueness).  Society tries to protect human beings while some animal activists try to protect these other species, more lately the great apes.

After considerable progress, activists are pleased they’ve all but stopped experimentation on great apes in the U.S.   Recall the National Institute of Health (NIH) ended the use of chimpanzees in NIH funded research laboratories.  It has retired the majority of its 360 chimps used in medical research.  In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed making all wild and domesticated chimpanzees subject to the terms of the Endangered Species Act.  Although skirmishes continue in the U.S. the public pressure remains.

The situation in the European Union (EU) is marked by continuing controversy.  The EU issued a directive regarding medical research using non-human primates like chimpanzees.  While the 2010 EU directive was thought to give balance to the issues of minimum animal welfare, intensity of pain to be inflicted and ended most research involving great apes, it contained a provision that explicitly allowed ongoing research with great apes.  It said that research could continue if researchers could not use any other species of animal.

Activists perceived this was somewhat of a loss with EU governance groups and have now redirected their efforts to the local political level.  The EU directive required member states to enact these rules by the start of 2013.  It also said these states could not ‘gold-plate’ the regulations by making the state’s law stricter than the EU directive.  Activists have delayed adoption of the directive in several states and are getting cities and municipalities to pass new restrictive laws and regulations to defeat the spirit of the directive at the local level.

In addition there is a petition that began to be circulated in the EU in November of 2012 that already has over a million signatures.  These signatures are being validated.  If they prove genuine, the European Commission and Parliament must hold hearings.   This would lead to another round of open and public debate on the issues.

Now another frontier has been opened up in the saga to protect chimps and great apes in the U.S.   A group called the Non Human Rights Project has filed court suits looking to free four chimps from their captivity.  The intent is to acquire “legal personhood” for these animals.  While New York lower courts denied the suits, they are collectively on appeal.

An article entitled Lawsuits Seek ‘Personhood’ for Chimpanzees in the December 2013 issue of Science magazine identifies Boston attorney, Steven Wise, as one of the people leading the charge.   “In 1993, Wise attempted to sue on behalf of a dolphin that had been transferred to a Navy facility, but the judge ruled that, as nonpersons, animals don’t have the legal “standing” to sue.  (More recently, a federal judge dismissed a 2011 lawsuit by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals when it tried to argue that Sea World had violated the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution by keeping orcas as “slaves.”).”

It is doubtful American courts will grant ‘personhood’ to nonhuman primates anytime soon.  These efforts however, maintain the pressure on society to recognize there are species of animals that are much closer and have similar cognitive and emotional capabilities to humans.  This should lead to greater adoption of laws and regulations that at least create new categories of rules to take their awareness into account.

Use the following links to obtain more information or access the source documents used to prepare this posting.

http://www.nature.com/news/biomedicine-the-changing-face-of-primate-research-1.14645

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/342/6163/1154.summary?sid=3efaff36-1beb-48fc-b483-465cc7f49507

http://www.wired.com/wiredscience/2013/12/chimpanzee-personhood-nonhuman-right/

http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/where-do-nonhuman-mammals-fit-in-our-moral-hierarchy/

http://science.time.com/2013/12/10/courts-say-chimps-arent-people/

 

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Empathy, Compassion and Hope at Work

Posted on 15 November 2013 by Jerry

We are jaded about reports of scores of people hurt in this or that shooting rampage.  In cases where a bad situation is averted, we either never hear about it or we don’t get enough information to know what happened.  A viral 911 tape, see first link below, drew our attention to Antoinette Tuff, a bookkeeper who talked a man out of using his assault rifle and 500 rounds of ammo in a grammar school.  Her story and the tape are a perfect example of the power of empathy, compassion and hope.

She displayed great empathy when she established a one-to-one relationship with the potential shooter.  She displayed compassion when she described for him her own life and how she survived periods of personal darkness to come back into the light.  She demonstrated hope when she assured him there was a way out of this situation for him.  Not only was she capable of seeing the similarity of her past personal challenges and the situation the gunman was facing but she was also able to elicit her same feelings in the man she persuaded to give himself up.

That the rampage was avoided, that the bookkeeper talked her way out of a bad situation are not the lessons we should take from this incident.  Empathy, compassion and hope are all emotions that are informed by intellect.  Recognition of the shared circumstance of the lives of two living creatures is what creates these emotions.  They represent the possession of self-recognition and the projection of one’s own feelings onto another, putting oneself in the other’s shoes so to speak.

These higher emotions are a product of the evolution of self-aware life forms.  They are largely learned emotions however. Everyone feels the most basic animal emotions of fear, anger, aggression, etc.  The higher emotions like empathy, sympathy and compassion or predictive emotions about future outcomes such as hope or despair all are developed. Unfortunately too few of us practice feeling these emotions or teach our children and others to feel them.

When you listen to Antoinette Tuff what you hear is her movement from fear to compassion for another human being who is in pain and afraid he has taken the situation too far.  You can hear Antoinette’s dawning empathy as you listen to the tape.  Be patient with the long silences. Hers is not a feigned emotion but a real understanding of what the other person is feeling.   This is what makes the tape so exceptional.

If more of us were aware of our higher emotions and used them more frequently the world would be a better place.  Unfortunately we seek the exhilaration of our most base emotions when we watch movies, when we should be preselecting movies that will help us develop higher emotions such as empathy, compassion, sympathy, hope and optimism.  The same is true for what we should be teaching our children.

We also need to be more conscious of to what we expose ourselves and our children.  The news channels are always reporting the negative events in excruciating detail with far less attention to stories that promote the best in all of us.  We need to change our consumption patterns and be active consumers of all that is good in human kind.

Chapter 7, An Evolutionary Imperative in the book Beyond Animal, Ego and Time discusses the evolution of higher emotions and their dependency on self-awareness.  See pages 69 through 75.  Go to http://www.iamaguardian.com/date/2013/03/ .

Use the following links to obtain more information or access source documents for the article:

http://www.slate.com/blogs/the_slatest/2013/08/22/antoinette_tuff_911_call_listen_to_the_full_tape_of_ga_school_clerks_call.html

http://www.salon.com/2013/08/22/the_story_the_right_hates_antoinette_tuffs_courage/

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sean_meshorer/tragedy-stopped-by-uncond_b_3795865.html

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6152/1336.summary?sid=6dbc41b2-5bfb-4125-878c-7c7a8dc8f5d6

http://www.iamaguardian.com/date/2013/03/

 

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“Bird Brain” Not an Insult, Chimps Freed

Posted on 23 August 2013 by Jerry

Calling someone “bird brained” used to be an insult but that is changing. Although their observed physical reactions are the same, new brain PET scans of birds demonstrate crows react differently when viewing various threats.  In an experiment birds were injected with a die that left traces of brain usage, they were shown various threats, anesthetized and given PET scans to see which areas of their brain had been activated.  When watching a researcher wearing a mask sitting with a dead crow in his lap they activated their hippocampus and cerebellum, the learning and memory areas of their brains.  This was different from their reaction to seeing a hawk, a traditional threat.

Researchers believe the differences came from the bird’s intent.  John Marzluff, a wildlife biologist at the University of Washington in an article appearing in the Proceedings of the Royal Society B when discussing the masked person with a crow in his lap said, “The crow wasn’t just responding to a danger when he was watching you.  He was learning the features of your masked face.  That’s why we think his hippocampus was activated.”  This and other characteristics of sentience have prompted behavioral researchers to call crows, belonging to the Corvid family, “feathered apes”.

As reported in a July 2013 issue of PLOS ONE, a team led by Alice Auersperg at the University of Vienna demonstrated that captive cockatoos were capable of sequential step-wise problem solving.  In an experiment, when confronted with a series of five locks that had to be unlocked to allow a bird to get to a visible treat, all ten birds figured out the solution to this sequential problem and successfully adjusted their behavior when the locks were sequenced in a different order or removed entirely.

Other research showed that New Caledonian crows share the same capabilities as ravens, African gray parrots and keas (a New Zealand parrot), all of which can all solve the problem of getting a treat hanging out of reach from a perch using the same stepwise method.  The article previously mentioned in the Proceeding of the Royal Society B described the experiment and said “They pull up the string with their beak, then step on the segment with their feet, freeing their beak to pull up more of the string, and so on, until they reach the treat.”

This article also references a 2004 report where an international team of neurobiologists and ornithologists stated “the brains of birds have structure, including an advanced forebrain, that are analogous to those of mammals.”  Once again the research is expanding the scope of animals and birds that have sophisticated problem-solving intellect.  We have been slow to learn the lesson that we are not the only animals that can think the way we do or feel the complex emotions we feel.

There is an exceptional article that appeared in the July 2013 issue of Scientific American entitled When Animals Mourn that describes research indicating that we share our mourning the death of one of our kind with dolphins, elephants, giraffes, gorillas, cats and mallard ducks.   This speaks to the widespread nature of love and mourning in the animal kingdom.

Turning to the role of chimpanzees, the closest human relatives with which we share 98% of our DNA, it was predicted in an earlier posting on this blog (see NIH Moves Chimps From Chumps to Champs in December of 2011) that is was clear the National Institute of Health (NIH) would progressively end the use of chimpanzees in NIH funded research laboratories in the U.S.  The NIH has now announced the agency will retire the majority of its 360 chimps used for medical research.  In addition, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has proposed making all chimpanzees, wild and domesticated, subject to the terms of the Endangered Species Act.

This means almost a complete end to what has been one of our most abusive behaviors.  Many people have come to decry the pain and suffering we have inflicted on these sensitive animals.  Research methods and alternatives now exist to make use of chimpanzees in medical experiments completely unnecessary and a thing of the past.  This represents meaningful progress for the human species.

Use the following links to obtain more information and/or see source documents:

http://rspb.royalsocietypublishing.org/content/280/1765/20131046.abstract

http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2f10.1371%2fjournal.pone.0068979

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6141/22.summary

http://scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=when-animals-mourn

http://www.sciencemag.org/content/341/6141/17.summary

http://www.sciencenews.org/view/generic/id/350936/description/chimps_in_captivity_may_soon_join_endangered_specief_list

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