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Emotional Aliens

Christine Nicol explores the meaty problem of eating aliens and how to choose which one. When Jake the spaceman crashes on a planet he has to eat the locals, how does he decide?

Jake the Spaceman (aka comedian Jake Yapp) has crash-landed on a remote planet and doesn't have much food to keep him going until he is rescued. Fortunately, the planet is teeming with alien life forms that are edible, but which ones should he eat? He wants to cause the minimum amount of pain and distress to the creatures, so what does he need to know about the nature of the beings on the planet? Can they feel pain? If so, how can he minimise suffering? Will eating an alien cause distress to others? Is the alien so aware and sensitive to its environment that Jake needs to consider whether it is a non-human person?
Christine will interview animal welfare scientists, philosophers and wildlife biologists to get under the skin of animal sentience and the potential consequences of accepting that animals are conscious, aware creatures.
These big questions generate surprising and challenging insights into our attitudes to other life. When you know absolutely nothing about the alien in front of you, what do you need to know before eating it?

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28 minutes

Professor Tim Birkhead

Professor Tim Birkhead
Professor Tim Birkhead, of the University of Sheffield’s Department of Animal and Plant Sciences, has been studying guillemots on Skomer Island since 1972. Before beginning his study as part of his PhD, no one had tried to conduct a census of guillemots. 

He came up with an innovative way to count the birds and determine how many chicks were produced each year. By marking birds individually with colour rings he was able to measure their breeding success, see how old they are when they first start to breed and see how long the birds live.

When he began his studies, the guillemot population breeding on Skomer was just 2,000 individuals, yet pictures of the island 30 years earlier show that there had been around 100,000 guillemots then. In 2011, the population showed signs of recovery when around 20,000 individuals were recorded.

Professor Ludwig Huber

Professor Ludwig Huber
Ludwig Huber is the head and co-founder of the Department of Cognitive Biology at the University of Vienna and is a professor of the natural science of animal ethics and human-animal-interactions at the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna and the Medical University of Vienna.

His research covers comparative cognition in fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals, including humans. He also studies perception, categorisation and concept formation in pigeons, social learning, imitation and empathy in marmosets and dogs, technical intelligence, emulation, exploration and tool use in kea and evolution of social cognition in tortoise and lizards.

Professor Georgia Mason

Professor Georgia Mason
Georgia Mason is a Professor in the Department of Animal Biosciences at the University of Guelph in Ontario, Canada. She is widely recognised as a world authority on stereotypic behaviour, such as repetitive or ritualistic movements such as body rocking, and was the first to use a multi-species, comparative approach to addressing animal welfare questions. She is interested in how scientists can ascertain what, if anything, animals are feeling. 

In 2015, she received a Medal for Outstanding Contributions from the Universities Federation for Animal Welfare for her research across a range of species; for increasing understanding of the relationships between animal husbandry and animal welfare; and for being a role model and mentor to the next generation of animal welfare scientists.

Dr Rob Thomas

Dr Rob Thomas
Dr Rob Thomas is a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Biosciences at the University of Cardiff. His research group studies animal behaviour in changing environments. The environmental changes that we study range from long-term climate changes, through seasonal and daily changes, to the sudden appearance of a potential predator or an unfamiliar type of food.

Among his areas of research are the impacts of human activities on wild animals, impacts of light and noise pollution on wildlife, impacts of capture and handling on birds and other animals.

Professor John Webster

Professor John Webster
John Webster is Emeritus Professor in Animal Husbandry at University of Bristol's School of Veterinary Sciences. He is a former member of the Animal Health and Welfare Panel of the European Food Safety Agency. He was responsible for establishing a unit for the study of animal welfare and behaviour at the University of Bristol's Vet School.

He was also a founding member of the Farm Animal Welfare Council and one of the first proponents of the concepts of the five welfare freedoms. He is also the author of Animal Husbandry Regained: The Place of Farm Animals in Sustainable Agriculture, which seeks to identify and explain the causes and contributors to current problems in animal husbandry, especially those related to 'factory farming', and advance arguments that may contribute to its successful re-orientation.

Dr James Yeates

Dr James Yeates
James is RSPCA Chief Veterinary Officer. He undertook a PhD at Bristol University in animal welfare and ethics and was previously chair of the British Veterinary Association Ethics and Welfare Group.

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