Experts in philosophy, conservation and animal behaviour want support for a Declaration of Rights for Cetaceans.
They believe dolphins and whales are sufficiently intelligent to justify the same ethical considerations as humans.
Recognising their rights would mean an end to whaling and their captivity, or their use in entertainment.
The move was made at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) in Vancouver, Canada, the world’s biggest science conference.
It is based on years of research that has shown dolphins and whales have large, complex brains and a human-like level of self-awareness.
This has led the experts to conclude that although non-human, dolphins and whales are “people” in a philosophical sense, which has far-reaching implications.
‘Self-aware’Ethics expert Prof Tom White, from Loyola Marymount University, Los Angeles, author of In Defence of Dolphins: The New Moral Frontier, said dolphins were “non-human persons”.