How To Be A Sentient Creature

Wild Orcas

Orcas: sentience is not a human preserve

While searching for the ridiculous to draw attention to the serious, I found this.

“Three orcas, or killer whales, were taken [in August] by a Russian catching team, believed to be the team that caught a female orca in the same general area at the same time last year. For the past year, that young female — someone named her Narnia and the name stuck — has been swimming alone in a tiny makeshift pen near Nakhodka (Vladivostok area). … When Narnia met her new cellmates, the three captives were reportedly in poor condition after the transport, refusing to eat. The trainers could do nothing. Finally, we heard that Narnia herself tried something. She brought fish to the three captives and gave it to them.” (

There’s nothing funny here. How do we make it stop?

How does it start? What goes on in the human psyche that causes this behaviour – subjugating creatures to the point of cruelty?
At a societal level, human behaviour parallels individual psychopathology. We’ve become disconnected from our ‘care-giver’ – nature – and consequently exhibit immature motives and perceptions, as characterised in our consumerist, exploitative model of economic growth.

“Our inability to stop our suicidal and ecocidal behaviour fits the clinical definition of addiction or compulsion: behaviour that continues in spite of the individual knowing that it is destructive to self, family, work and social relationships” (Ralph Metzner, p60, in Ecopsychology: Restoring the Earth/Healing the Mind – edited by Theodore Roszak, Mary E. Gomes and Allen D. Kanner, Sierra Club Books, University of California Press, Berkeley, California, 1995)

How do we start to reconnect? Consider species most similar in intelligence to ourselves, as familiarity may help us empathise.

“Some of the most intelligent animals on earth, like chimpanzees, elephants and dolphins, … are complex animals who have deep emotions, understand each others’ minds, live in complicated societies, transmit culture, use sophisticated communication, solve difficult problems, and even mourn the loss of their loved ones. Just like humans.” (

Increasingly there is compelling evidence for intelligence in cetaceans and elephants. We might also include the African Grey Parrot for its capacity for language and complex cognitive tasks, following the work of Irene Pepperberg.

Victims of the African bushmeat trade, bonobo chimpanzees show the contrast between their capacity for empathy and the psychological damage of our cruelty. “Rehabilitated orphans had much more difficulty managing their emotions.” After a fight orphan apes are more upset for longer, whereas those “that recovered quickly from an upsetting experience, such as a fight, were also more likely to comfort others. … rushing to hug other juveniles that were screaming after being attacked.” (

However, despite this accruing evidence, such creatures “are still considered property, poached and taken from their natural habitat, separated and held against their will, subjected to cruel experimentation, exploited for entertainment, sold on the black market, used, abused and treated like objects for our amusement and financial gain. These experiences scar them for life.” (

A first step is using the human construct of the legal system to enshrine and enforce rights.
“Rather than treating nature as property under the law, rights of nature acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles.” (

What can we do?
1. Be responsible consumers. Ensure we’re not adding to ‘demand’ for ‘products’ of such cruelty – both physical items and leisure entertainment. Choose not to spend your money or time on these.
2. Support organisations that raise awareness and take action at local, national, international levels to right these wrongs. Give these your money or time.

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