"The Marine Mammal Protection Act (MMPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), and other "wildlife conservation" laws are old-speciesist. They afford some protection to species and other groups but no rights to individual nonhumans.
The MMPA is designed to protect "species and population stocks," not individuals. It expresses "concern for the health and safety of dolphin populations," not dolphin individuals. Like fishers, hunters, and trappers, the MMPA refers to nonhuman individuals as if they were species: kill "any species of whale" ("a whale of any species" would be correct.) The MMPA's framers weren't thinking in terms of nonhuman individuals even when referring to the killing of individual whales.
The MMPA doesn't forbid injuring and killing; it sets limits on injuring and killing. For example, it maintains a quota on tuna fishers' collateral killing of dolphins. According to the MMPA, the government may allow the intentional killing of individual seals who eat salmons (whom humans want to eat).
The MMPA's goal is to keep marine mammal populations at levels conducive to maximum human exploitation. For instance, the MMPA limits the killing of North Pacific fur seals to the extent necessary to keep herds "at their optimum sustainable population" - optimal for humans. The MMPA also allows U.S. sport hunters to kill polar bears in Canada and import their body parts as trophies, provided that Canada maintains hunting quotas designed to keep the "affected population stock at a sustainable level."
Imagine a human law equivalent to the MMPA - say, the Native American Protection Act. Because Native Americans constitute a small minority, they would be protected at the level of their various group populations. However, a certain number of individual Native Americans could be killed with impunity. The government would be concerned about the health and safety of the Navajo, Onondaga, and other Native American populations, not individual Native Americans. The goal would be to keep group populations at "optimum sustainable" levels - optimal for other Americans. The government could allow the intentional killing of individual Chinooks who catch and eat salmons (whom other Americans want to catch and eat). Also, U.S. citizens could sport-hunt Inuits in Canada and import their body parts as trophies. In the 18th century, European-Americans did sport-hunt Native Americans and display their body parts.
Like the MMPA, the ESA is aimed at preserving nonhuman groups. It too refers to the possession, sale, transport, and killing of "species," not individuals. The ESA promotes the "conservation" of "depleted" species, because of their "esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value" to U.S. citizens, not because nonhumans have any rights or value of their own.
Imagine a comparable Endangered Ethnicity Act (EEA). The act would be aimed at "conserving" low-population ethnic groups, such as Bedouins and Jews, because of their esthetic, ecological, educational, historical, recreational, and scientific value to other humans. The EEA would specify how many Bedouins and Jews could be killed and under what circumstances. Members of highly populous ethnic groups, such as the Chinese, could be killed in any number (until their population became small).
If we applied the ESA's principles to humans as a species, it would be legal to kill any number of humans until the human population was greatly reduced. Individual humans would have no rights.
Without laws like the MMPA and ESA, how would we protect species from extinction? By protecting every member of those species - that is, by according rights to nonhuman individuals. As ethicist Bernard Rollin has commented, "A species is a collection of morally relevant individuals." Protect the individuals, and you've protected the species."