I've seen various articles on the so-called 'Denmark dolphin slaughter' posted all day on social media... I know the pictures look shocking but there's surely more to it? The more I read the less convinced I am that all the outrage is actually well-placed (as well-meaning as I'm sure it is). Firstly a few obvious corrections should be made. Number one: it's not really Denmark we're talking about here. This happens on the Faroe islands - an autonomous, self-governing region lying isolated in the Norwegian Sea midway between the UK, Iceland and Norway.
'What's that in the water?' asks Kathleen, pointing ahead of the boat. We're standing on the deck of the Glen Tarsan, a former fishing vessel now converted to take wildlife and other cruises off the west coast of Scotland. We've left Skye behind and are sailing in wonderful sunshine towards the little island of Canna (population: 12).
Visualise dolphins jumping and performing tricks for tourists as they clap and cheer. Children laughing as their parents sit nearby. Then visualise the fresh scent of newly spilled blood, the screams of mothers as their babies are ripped from their sight and dead bodies being dragged away one by one.
To function like name-use in human language, dolphins would need to not just repeat their own name, but call out the names of other individuals in order to address them. Figuring out if dolphins do this has been the goal of Vincent Janik and his research group at the Sea Mammal Research Unit at the University of St. Andrews.
The only thing that should really surprise us about the recent report that dolphins use names for each other is that we're surprised at all. Ever since Descartes, it seems drilled into us that what separates us humans from the animal world is, well, nearly everything that matters. Yet over time we've also learned that animals can have emotions, beliefs and extraordinary capability to learn and communicate.