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Court to Decide if SeaWorld Whales are Illegal 'Slaves'

By AFP News    February 08, 2012 at 10:22AM / (3) comments

WASHINGTON - A California federal court is to decide for the first time in U.S. history whether amusement park animals are protected by the same constitutional rights as humans.

 

The issue arises from a lawsuit filed by rights group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) in a San Diego court on behalf of five orcas named Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises.

The whales perform water acrobatics at the SeaWorld amusement parks in San Diego and in Orlando, Florida.

PETA argues that continuing the whales' "employment" at SeaWorld violates the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits slavery.

District Judge Jeffrey Miller heard arguments in the complaint Monday and reviewed the response from SeaWorld, which asked that the lawsuit be dismissed. His ruling is expected to come later.

The suit, filed in October 2011, 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."

"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 says the five killer whales are represented by their "friends" at PETA, which include three former killer whale trainers, a marine biologist and the founder of an organization that seeks to protect orcas.

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's motion to dismiss argues that, the aendment "only protects people, not animals, from slavery and involuntary servitude."

The courts lack authority to extend the amendment to animals, which could "open a veritable Pandora's Box of inescapable problems and absurd consequences," SeaWorld argued in motion to dismiss last year.

The case is unprecedented not because no laws cover the issue but because PETA's claims "are so baseless that no party has ever wasted the time, energy and expense of any court in making such claims in a lawsuit," SeaWorld argued.

In 2010, Tilikum drowned a trainer after a show in Orlando and was kept in "complete isolation" in a small concrete tank afterward, PETA said.

SeaWorld denied any implications of cruelty to animals, instead accusing PETA of trying to get attention for itself with its lawsuit.

"While PETA continued to engage in this publicity stunt, SeaWorld San Diego was returning four rescued and rehabilitated sea lions to the wild," SeaWorld said in its response.

"SeaWorld remains the standard for zoological stewardship of marine animals and we reject any challenge to the conditions and quality of care for these remarkable animals," SeaWorld said. "The welfare of our whales is enshrined in numerous federal and state laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act."

 

Image: AFP

Source: AFP

Comments  3

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  • THE ENSLAVED WHALES
    02/09/2012 01:47am

    ALTHOUGH THESE ANIMALS ARE BEING KEPT IN AQUARIAMS AT SEA WORLD , THEY ARE BEING TREATED VERY WELL AND VERY WELL FED,MUCH BETTER THAN IN THE WILD , WHERE WHALES , ALL KINDS ARE BEING PUT CLOSER AND CLOSER TO ENDANGERED SPECIES LISTS.IF ANYONE WANTS TO BRING UP A CASE OF ANIMAL ENSLAVEMENT , TAKE A LOOK AT THE ZOOS AND CIRCUS',WHERE THOSE ANIMALS ARE NOT SO WELL CARED FOR EVEN REALLY ABUSED.

  • Orcas
    02/09/2012 08:36am

    If P.E.T.A. has anything to do with anything, I am all against it.

  • Idiots
    02/09/2012 11:03am

    I can hear our forefathers spinning in their graves. There is absolutely NO WAY that the constitution includes animals under the 13th amendment. When the constitution was written, they were still using horses to drive them around and plow their fields. Come on, people. Next we'll have to give animals the right to vote and run for office. Does this mean I'll have to release my little Morkie onto the streets of NYC so he can finally be free of his slave master’s tyranny? PETA idiots. If that happens, PetFoodDirect is going out of business since my now-freed Morkie doesn't have a credit card, shipping/billing address, or thumbs to open his dog food. I guess all of my family's love and attention doesn't count for much in the way of constitutional rights. I wonder if the whales' trainers feel the same way.


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