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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Marine Mammals Enact Individual Worlds


Scientific literature describes the various ways that we perceive animals and their contribution to our humanization. Our understanding of “animality” is changing, corresponding to an ever-increasing general knowledge of animals. Scientific studies provide objective descriptions of the complexity of animal worlds. The present article discusses recent findings on socio-spatiality, social cognition, and self-recognition in various marine mammal species, as well as the relevance and coherence of theories used to explain them. In a constructivist ethological approach, animals are not considered to be mere living organisms or objects, but rather, subjects. All animals use their senses to create relationships with their physical and social environments. Through their perceptions and actions, they give meaning to their surroundings; they enact individual and specific worlds, known as umwelts.The human-animal relationship is an inter subjectivity. Examples from studies of bottlenose dolphins ( Tursiops truncatus ) and killer whales ( Orcinus orca ) can be used to hypothesize the existence of a context-dependent situated self. Finally, animal welfare/well-being and the effectiveness of environmental enrichment programs can be re-evaluated in the context of this theoretical framework. In sum, no objective world exists; rather, we propose the existence of multiple context-dependent cognitive and subjective umwelts. The present article is the first to consider marine mammals with this perspective.

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