Are Orcas in Captivity Slaves?

U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey Miller is reviewing a lawsuit filed by PETA to have five orcas released from Sea World. PETA says the orcas are slaves because they are held in captivity and forced to perform for money in San Diego and Orlando, Florida.

The 13th amendment to the Constitution abolished human slavery and was passed in 1865, but it doesn’t include animals in its definition of slavery, said the judge. PETA’s attorney Jeffery Kerr countered, “Tilikum, Katina, Kasatka, Ulises and Corky have been captive and subjected to treatment that we feel is slavery.” (Source: Toronto Sun)

Last year Sea World announced a new orca show in Orlando, stating “At the core of the show is the unifying message that both animals and humans are part of one world, with one ocean, and its future is in our hands to cherish and protect.” (Source: Sea World)

The show called Shamu Rocks sounds a lot more like a circus act than an educational experience though: “Rock the night away, with Shamu. This show has more flash—and certainly more splash—than a rock concert. Check out amazing killer whale behavior set to sizzling rock and roll music, along with dazzling lighting effects and breathtaking multimedia elements.”

At the gate, an Orlando Sea World adult ticket is $81.99 and a child’s is $72.99. One facility at Orlando Sea World has 4,900 seats, and orcas were performing there, according to the state of Florida. With that number of seats and at those rates, the amounts of money pouring in are very large, but what portion of it benefits the animals?

One could argue these marine parks are nothing but for-profit companies that only are lucrative because of the animals they feature, yet the animals are kept in confined spaces which harms them. So there may not be legal precedent for defining orcas held in captivity and made to perform to enrich their human owners as slaves, but they are slaves in practice.

Image Credit: Michael Lowin, Public Domain

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Pat P.
Pat P4 years ago

I agree with PETA in the sense that orcas should not be kept in captivity, esp. since it's just for entertainment and profit-making.

As for the video--it is crass commercialism at its worse! There is no doubt that these animals are awe inspiring. They are beautiful and intelligent. But my god, this rock-concert-like atmosphere is insane. Is anyone thinking how this loud noise and bright lights are affecting the orcas?! This, along with their limited lives, swimming in circles instead of many miles in the ocean with others, why would anyone been surprised if they went nuts?

A man involved in the capture in the U.S. of the first orcas has deeply regretted his participation in the "event", where they were entrapped, torn away from their pods and terrified, and considers it to be one of the worse things he has ever done. I believe that NO animals should be kept in captivity merely for our entertainment and making money. I can't imagine any of them are happy.

Wanda Kennington
Wanda Kennington5 years ago

This Shamu Rocks video is revolting.

Peter Blattner
Past Member 5 years ago

All the Orcas,Delphins and other Sea Animals they have to making a Show for many stupid and egoist Tourists they are in a Prison for all his "Live" A Delphin in Freedom He lives many Years, in the Show Sites he are deadly after 5 or 6 Years.
From Peter Blattners small Dogshelter in Praden /Switzerland (the 29.02.2012)

Laura M.
Laura Malfliet6 years ago

Yes, they are wild animals and are not made to entertain us.

Zuzana K.
Zuzana K6 years ago

A very thought provoking article. One would hope that to train them they do not use similar methods to circus. I have never been to Sea World so I have not seen the show, but from the descriptions it sounds like it would be very frightening to the animals..

Ruth S. Interesting though. I actually do wonder how pets do feel about it their conditions - if they feel unhappy or not - I see them not as slaves but as equals (or if anything it is rather I who obeys them, to play and feed and care for them as they wish :D) . But they are in non natural conditions so is it a bad thing for them?

Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Darla G.
Darla G6 years ago

I used to think that Shamu was a great show. Now, I think it's a travesty to keep these beautiful creatures penned up in small pools when they need to be in the ocean.

Ruth S.
Ruth S6 years ago

PETA is going overboard!! If this is an accurate discription of SLAVERY...what about the cats and dogs held captive in houses & apartments? Cats and dogs are "forced" to do tricks for treats. But the biggest outrage is that they are actually forced to wear human like clothing!! Then there are the "poor" fish held captives in fish bowls and aquariums!! PETA, are you going to sue pet owners next for not allowing them to live free in the wild?

Fitness Diana
Diana Hammel6 years ago

Animals have not choice, nor way to communicate. They are at expenses of our own explotative cruelty! I do not think that any woman who decides to promote PETA is being a slave because she is making this choice!

Vicki P.
Victoria P6 years ago

Thanks for the post!