John's Letter to the Wall Street Journal, 09/14/97
On 09/09/97, the Wall Street Journal printed an opinion entitled, "Save the Whalers". This piece called for the IWC to end the moratorium on whaling, stating, "...there are no data to support the belief that they (whales) are at or even near the top of the animal intelligence scale."
Here is John's reply.
A recent opinion in your paper entitled "Save the Whalers" (09/09/97), contains basic errors about scientific evidence in regards to the whales and their intelligence. It then uses these errors as justifcation of a reactionary position advocating an end to the international moratorium on whaling.
Stating that "...there are no data to support the belief that they (whales) are at or even near the top of the animal intelligence scale." this opinon ignores entirely evidence regarding brain size and cognitive capability of the cetaceans. In fact, by the established scientific standards used to classify brains, their sizes and relative intelligences associated them, whales rank at the top of the animal kingdom, placing higher than the other large brained cetacea (dolphins) and homo sapiens.
Among the large variety (fifty-two species) of dolphins and toothed whales which comprise the cetacea, there are brain sizes ranging from the ape size through the human size to the superhuman level of four to six times the human size.
But its not so much the size, but the structure of brains: where they enlarge, and how they are used once they are enlarged. The larger cetacean brains are enlarged only in the associational silent cortex, the area of the brain associated with higher thought, language, and self awareness. The false arguement that a large body accounts for a large brain overlooks research into the damage of a brain under rotational stress
During World War II it was found that rotatory forces of sufficient intensity on the human head cause extensive damage to the brain: angular acceleration and resulting displacement set up shearing stresses within the brain, tearing it and possibly damaging its blood vessels. It was found that the smaller brains (those of monkeys) required higher acceleration to damage them by rotatory means. As the brains became larger, it was necessary to attach much larger masses to their container to protect them by reducing these rotatory forces within the critical limits that avoid damage. A glancing blow on a very large object causes less rotation acceleration than the same blow on a smaller object: the sheer stresses conducted to the brain are limited by the size of the attached mass.
A dramatic confirmation of these mechanical forces is seen when the very large brain is removed from a dead whale. A nine-thousand-gram brain from a sperm whale is an incredibly fragile structure when removed from the braincase. If one merely rotates the vessel in which it is contained, one can see sheer stress lines and distortions of the structure appear on its surface and within its depths. If one then contrasts this with a removed human brain, it is evident that one can rotate the human hrain at a greater rate of acceleration hefore the same kinds of stress appear within the structure. If one rotates a small monkey brain, one can use a much greater rate of acceleration than one can with the human before such stress and strain appear within it.
Presumptions derived from simple correlations between brain weight, body weight, and body length simply have no relevance to brain survival. The idea that a large body requires a large brain is entirely backwards. It is the large brain that needs a large body to survive.
Paleontological evidence shows that the whales and the dolphins have been here on this planet a lot longer than has man. Dolphins (like the current Tursiops) have been here on the order of fifteen million years with brain sizes equal to and greater than that of modern man. Apparently some whale and dolphin brains became the equal of that of present-day man and then passed man's current size about thirty million years ago. Secure human skulls in large numbers with a cranial capacity equal to present man are found only as far back as one hundred fifty thousand years. Thus we see that man is a still evolving latecomer to this planet. He may not survive as long as the Cetacea have survived. (Man may also ensure that the whales will cease surviving within the next generation or two.)
These data, combined with extensive behavioral observations of cetacea demonstrating their communicative and cognitive abilities, are the basis for recognizing them as intelligent, sentient individuals, deserving greater respect than mere "animal resources".
Opinions such as to relax legal protection of cetaceans, while convenient for current politics and economics, and soothing to the human ego, not only ignore scientific fact but are irresponsible and immoral.
We have much to learn from the other intelligent species of this planet. The whales and other cetaceans, residents of this planet for 30 to 50 million years longer than humans, deserve expanded protections, rights, and regard in our minds and under our law.