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.
“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?
Photo Credit: MJ&K-T
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