Are SeaWorld Orcas Illegal Slaves?

A federal court in San Diego, California, is to decide for the first time in US history whether amusement park animals are protected by the same constitutional rights as humans.

The issue arises from a lawsuit filed in October 2011 by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) against SeaWorld on behalf of five orcas named Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises. Three perform at SeaWorld San Diego and two at Seaworld Orlando.

Orcas Protected Under the 13th Amendment?

The suit asked that the court declare that the orcas are “held in slavery and/or involuntary servitude by defendants in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.” And that, therefore, they should be freed.

After the hour-long hearing last Monday, District Judge Jeffrey Miller said he will study SeaWorld’s request to have the PETA lawsuit dismissed. He said he will issue his ruling soon but did not give a deadline.

From Breitbart:

“It’s a new frontier in civil rights,” said Jeff Kerr, PETA general counsel, who described the hearing as a “historic day.”

“Slavery does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on race, gender or ethnicity,” he argued. “Coercion, degradation and subjugation characterize slavery and these orcas have endured all three.”


The complaint demands that the court “appoint a legal guardian to effectuate plaintiffs’ transfer from defendants’ facilities to a suitable habitat in accordance with each plaintiff’s individual needs and best interests.”

SeaWorld Wants The Case Dismissed

SeaWorld’s motion to dismiss argues that, the amendment “only protects people, not animals, from slavery and involuntary servitude.”

From the Toronto Star:

SeaWorld attorney Theodore Shaw said PETA’s attempted use of the 13th Amendment in its lawsuit is “ignoring 125 years of case law applying the 13th amendment … and ignoring common sense.”

PETA is trying to “rewrite the 13th Amendment,” Shaw said. But Kerr countered that the amendment prohibits the kind of human behaviour that SeaWorld has used to capture orcas and keep them in confinement.

After the hearing, PETA officials issued a statement suggesting that having the issue heard in federal court is a victory in itself.

“This is a truly historic day for the law and for the animals,” said PETA spokesman David Perle.

24 Orcas Have Died At SeaWorld In The Past 25 Years

Judging by Miller’s response, it seems unlikely that PETA will win this case, but it’s great that they have brought attention to the conditions in which SeaWorld keeps its orcas.

As Care2′s Mac McDaniel noted here, twenty four orcas have died at SeaWorld in the past 25 years. SeaWorld has not been legally able to capture orcas in the wild since the early 70s when it used airplanes and explosives in one of its hunts.

And whether or not you call it slavery, these orcas are confined in tanks filled with chemically-treated water and fed an artificial diet. They are enormous intelligent animals with tight family bonds who are born with the instincts to roam free in open waters. But every aspect of an animal’s existence at SeaWorld is stressful, frustrating, and unhealthy so maybe that’s why they are dying at half the age they would if they were living in the wild.

Watching these orcas perform at SeaWorld was an unpleasant experience, one that I do not plan to repeat. Whatever happens with this lawsuit, why not boycott all zoos and circuses, and any organizations that make money from exploiting animals?

What do you think?

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Photo Credit: MJ&K-T

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Suju Bala
Suju Bala2 years ago

i say that the orcas are highly intelligent and sensitive beings and need to be freed.

Muriel Servaege
Muriel Servaege2 years ago

Orca whales should be set free.

Duane B.
.2 years ago

Killer whales should not be kept captive for the entertainment of humans!

Lucille P.
Lucille P.3 years ago

I never have, nor will I ever, go to SeaWorld. Their attitude disgusts me. This is a blatant example of slavery and how SeaWorld can even attempt to deny this baffles me.

Jim F.
Past Member 3 years ago

We humans have enslaved everything, people , animals, whatever. It appears as though humans consider enslavement a method of environmental control. Enslave people, enslave animals, enslave plants, enslave everything that isn't you?

Control freaks! People with massive insecurities? SLAVE MASTERS?

Vince Deleon
Past Member 3 years ago

Shame on us humans, a damn shame. No one has known a whale seeking legal justice, which of these species has come about to seek justice freedom and equality for it's own kind? Ethical Treatment of Animals laws (all ,man made ) If these creatures we're left in their own habitats they'd be fine. we're saying "we can treat them and study their behaviors" for what ? In the end it leads to finding simple ways to dominate them. I know my kind to well . we have polluted their en-habitats. Hunted & killed both them & their offsprings, for food & sport, without measure, for centuries. Modern & industrialize man, it's a damn shame seeing what have been done to the earth and all her inhabitants. The majority of us have become sick in our mind selfish and unconcerned for the well-being of others. The earth/universe is our faculty of learning. How dare we measure other species intelligence the way we measure ours, when we have miserably failed with understanding us. Leave these creatures to their own where they can share their own intelligence with each other where their laws and rights is with their own kind and not in a courtroom with maritime laws or laws of the land. The only ruling to be accepted in a court of law, is to free them all! Just leave them alone where they belong and see the beauty in who they are in their space. peace and respect.

m Shiel
M s3 years ago

BOYCOTT SEAWORLD and all attractions that hold animals captive This practice needs to end Circ uses should be banned from having animals I have seen several human only circuses and they are great I go back whenever they come into town

Christy Elamma
Christy Elamma3 years ago

People should not go to places like Sea World! If they lost their audience, there would be no incentive for them to continue to keep orcas and other marine species. The practice should be banned by law, but since that does not appear to be likely, at least not soon, then boycotting these parks is the fastest way to get results.

Eternal Gardener
Eternal Gardener3 years ago

Can't see what else you could call it?!

Jackie Agusta
Jackie Agusta3 years ago

Of course they are slaves. They were taken from their home weren't they and forced to perform/work for a living... :-(