Yesterday, PETA announced that they are officially taking on SeaWorld. The animals right organization and others have teamed up to sue SeaWorld for violating the constitutional rights of orcas.
According to PETA, joining them are marine mammal trainer turned activist Ric O’Barry of The Cove, world-renowned marine biologist Dr. Ingrid Visser, founder of Orca Network Howard Garrett, and two former SeaWorld trainers (yup, you read that right!) Samantha Berg and Carol Ray. PETA says that the suit is based on the plain text of the 13th Amendment of the Constitution, “which prohibits the condition of slavery without reference to ‘person’ or any particular class of victim.” This is the first time a lawsuit has sought to apply the amendment to nonhumans, and names five orcas as the plaintiffs: Tilikum and Katina (at SeaWorld Orlando) and Kasatka, Corky, and Ulises (at SeaWorld San Diego). Jeffrey Kerr, general counsel to PETA said, “Slavery is slavery, and it does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on gender, race, or religion.”
PETA President Ingrid Newkirk adds, “All five of these orcas were violently seized from the ocean and taken from their families as babies. They are denied freedom and everything else that is natural and important to them while kept in small concrete tanks and reduced to performing stupid tricks…The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery, and these orcas are, by definition, slaves.” The organization claims that SeaWorld’s confined whales are “forced to swim in circles in small, barren concrete tanks,” and are “deprived of the opportunity to make conscious choices and to practice their cultural vocal, social, and foraging traditions.” They are calling the lawsuit “the next step” in humans treating animals not as property but as sentient beings. “Just as we look back with shame at a time when we enslaved other humans and viewed some people as property less deserving of protection and consideration, we will look back on our treatment of these animals with shame.”
According to ABC News, SeaWorld has said applying the 13th Amendment to nonhuman animals would be “baseless and in many ways offensive.” “SeaWorld is among the world’s most respected zoological institutions,” the company said. “There is no higher priority than the welfare of the animals entrusted to our care and no facility sets higher standards in husbandry, veterinary care and enrichment.”
The lawsuit is being filed in San Diego, in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California. It remains to be seen whether or not the lawsuit will be successful in applying constitutional rights to nonhumans, but it has already been successful in bringing the issue to the public eye as it spreads throughout the news. If PETA’s team does succeed and SeaWorld faces legal action for enslavement of animals, think of what that could mean for animals in aquariums, zoos, circuses and other entertainment industries!