So what does this mean? It means first off that the question of emotions at least in mammals, appears to be settled. We see behaviors and the kind of brain development that would indicate emotions. We even appear to have documented cases of dolphins committing suicide. So the case for human or even primate exceptionalism in this area appears to be bunk. So how emotions are considered in animal behavior going forward should take into consideration how developed the brain in the animal in question is. This also has policy implications. Dolphins are officially considered non-human persons under Indian law. In fact the legal personhood movement has gained steam.
As it continues to gain steam, personhood will have economic impacts. If I kill a dolphin with a fishing net I also net a manslaughter charge, it will create a need for innovation in fishing technologies and fisherman behavior. Without fail there will be people who decry such pressures on economic forces. In fact if history is any indicator, we could see the Heartland Institute, American Enterprise Institute, and Cato all paid to coauthor a document claiming that dolphins are incapable of feeling emotion and like being killed with fishing nets. The disgusting level of corruption in the think tank world aside, we have to consider the moral implications of scientific discoveries. If orcas, chimpanzees, and Kodiak are all rational actors capable of emotions, have their own wants and needs, and forge deep social connections than maybe the animal rights movement has a point to make.