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Animals are not ours to eat, wear, experiment on, use for entertainment, or abuse in any other way.

PETA Sues SeaWorld for Violating Orcas’ Constitutional Rights

Written by PETA | October 25, 2011

In the first case of its kind, PETA, three marine-mammal experts, and two former orca trainers are filing a lawsuit asking a federal court to declare that five wild-caught orcas forced to perform at SeaWorld are being held as slaves in violation of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The filing—the first ever seeking to apply the 13th Amendment to nonhuman animals—names the five orcas as plaintiffs and also seeks their release to their natural habitats or seaside sanctuaries.

The suit is based on the plain text of the 13th Amendment, which prohibits the condition of slavery without reference to “person” or any particular class of victim. “Slavery is slavery, and it does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on gender, race, or religion,” says general counsel to PETA, Jeffrey Kerr.

The five wild-captured orca plaintiffs are Tilikum and Katina (both confined at SeaWorld Orlando) and Kasatka, Corky, and Ulises (all three confined at SeaWorld San Diego).

“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,” says PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk. “The 13th Amendment prohibits slavery, and these orcas are, by definition, slaves.”


In the aerial view of SeaWorld, one can see how little room orcas have. Inside the circle is Tilikum, whose nose and tail almost touch the ends of his tank. Image © 2011 Google

Orcas are intelligent animals who, in the wild, work cooperatively, form complex relationships, communicate using distinct dialects, and swim up to 100 miles every day. At SeaWorld, they are forced to swim in circles in small, barren concrete tanks. Deprived of the opportunity to make conscious choices and to practice their cultural vocal, social, and foraging traditions, they are compelled to perform meaningless tricks for a reward of dead fish.

Our understanding of animals grows every day. Animals are no longer regarded as “things” to dominate, but as breathing, feeling beings with families, dialects, intellect, and emotions. 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. The 13th Amendment exists to abolish slavery in all its forms—and this lawsuit is the next step.

The orcas are represented in the suit by what the law refers to as their “next friends”: PETA, Ric O’Barry (a former orca and dolphin trainer and the star of the Academy Award–winning documentary The Cove), renowned marine biologist and orca expert Dr. Ingrid N. Visser, Orca Network founder Howard Garrett, and former SeaWorld trainers Samantha Berg and Carol Ray.

The groundbreaking suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of California in San Diego.

Please help animals imprisoned by SeaWorld today. Click here to write to The Blackstone Group—the company that owns SeaWorld—and ask that it immediately set in place a firm and rapid plan to release the animals to sanctuaries that can provide them with an appropriate and more natural environment.

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  • Martha Galan says:

    I will NEVER go to see these precious animals in captivity ever! SeaWorld get a life, have some compassion, put the whales back into the ocean where they belong!!!

  • Jason Peysen says:

    Watch the documentary Blackfish…. hear the calls from mother orcas to their babys who were just taking away from them to go to some other seaworlds to make Blackstone more millions. See how the largest male in captivity is kept isolated from other orcas just so can keep providing semen to inpregnate other females. My eyes are open and my stomach is sickened to treatment of earths creatures for entertainment purposes.

  • holly says:

    I love whale and its always been my dream to one day see one in person however I will never go to seaworld to do so. These tank remind me a the little betta fish in stores actually they may have more space per volume then tilkum does in this photo. I dont get why they wouold do this to him even if he kill a person why take him fromk the other whales?! Its horrible. I cant believe our society thinks putting animals in a concrete fish bowl is humane let alone making them do tricks. If they are to be captive at least strive to make it a VERY large tank that simulates at least a shred of their nature enviroment. Its no wonder they are killing people.

  • herman lankwarden says:

    A Killer Show: “Death at SeaWorld” Exposes the Tragedy Behind the Tricks David Kirby’s new book examines the risky business of keeping killer whales in captivity PLEASE PEOPLE, READ THIS AND YOU WILL NEVER GO AGAIN TO A SEA AQUARIUM.

  • claire says:

    educate ,educate ,educate.May be too late for these beautiful creatures.If people are turned off watcheing them perform,then they can be left in their natural inviroment.

  • Skip says:

    Orcas have killed humans, yet wisely, the District attorney of the areas that these “murders” took place, DID NOT file murder charges against them. Neither Dawn Brancheau or Keltie Byrne, nor any of the others killed by orcas would have wanted them charged either. You can’t have it both ways. They are not slaves, they are animals.

  • daugette says:

    it is such a shame that seaworld lost the battle with the judge regarding this issue.

  • Mary says:

    I am lucky enough to live near a migrating whale area. Every season is spectacular, whether it is one or ten whales. Basking, flopping, feeding, looking after their calves. It is a joy and breathtaking to watch. I am so lucky. So we have to keep them FREE. This is pure entertainment, seeing and experiencing them in THEIR environment which we need to keep clean too. I hope the ORCAS are one day free to roam the world on their own terms.

  • Rocco says:

    Shame on you Seaworld. I was planning to visit you in Florida and I hope this is not true

  • Liz says:

    @ Christopher If the animals “LIKE” their work, then why do they become depressed, suicidal, and lash out at their trainers? I mean really, people shouldn’t comment unless they’ve read the article. Seriously.

  • RD says:

    I’m not fond of Sea World’s treatment to whales. It’s no different than capturing and training animals for the circus, which I despise as well. Thank you for being the voice for God’s creatures.

  • Maynard S. Clark says:

    IMO, this is a truly GOOD campaign – no nudity, no salacious inferences, but a clear constitutional argument. But effectiveness requires a legal victory.

  • chashurst says:

    I dont care if its the “right” thing to do to capture these animals…they need to be free like humans. Its the right thing to do to let it go..there is a HUGE ocean out there just waiting for him. THE END.

  • Amy says:

    Please take into consideration that a lot of these animals get rescued and there are reasons that we may not know of for them not to be released back into the wild. Even some of the other animals have been in captivity for a long time or have been raised in captivity, and get use to the ways and cannot be put back into the wild, they will not be able to survive and die, it would be a cruel and unusual punishment! I think maybe SeaWorld should take into consideration for making the tanks bigger for the more bigger animals.

  • Erika D says:

    @Nikki4716 and Carrie Melas- Dont spew things you have not researched. An animal that was taken into captivity at a very early age or was born into captivity their survival prospects are extremely low if released into the “wild” like next to ensuring they will not survive much past 6 months to a year. Animals that are injured and rehabilitated and then released back into the wild their survival prospects will depend on how long they were in captivity the longer they are in captivity then lower their chances become for survival. As for the example Nikki asked for look up the Orca that was released KEIKO the process of releasing Keiko started in 1998 and Keiko beached himself by 2003.

  • Carrie Melas says:

    What Nikki4716 is saying I know for sure and have proof that it is true. Maybe human beings cannot survive if left in the wilderness. We have become degenerated after thousands of years domesticating ourselves. All animals, even dogs – let alone cats – adapt to nature and wildlife IMMEDIATELY as if they had never been domesticated. But of course there must not be any human interfernece. On the other hand, if such animals – so close to wildlive and not yet been degenerated – are caught and trained for the pleasure of people (which resembels and reminds me of the story of “the elephant-man”) maybe – just MAYBE – we could “pour water into our wine” if more humane conditions were secured. Yet I’m afraid it would cost the Company and/or other such companies more and so it would be preferable to release these magestic animals into their natural habitat and even better to sanctuaries.

  • Todd says:

    Everyone arguing about whether or not release will kill them should really read the whole article. And maybe not assume that these things haven’t been thought through. Ya think? Here is how the article ends… please note the word “sanctuaries.” “Please help animals imprisoned by SeaWorld today. Click here to write to The Blackstone Group—the company that owns SeaWorld—and ask that it immediately set in place a firm and rapid plan to release the animals to sanctuaries that can provide them with an appropriate and more natural environment.”