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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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  • Sara Guananga says:

    i hop e more people acknowledge this and don’t decided to ignore it. there needs to be an end to this evil.

  • cdwonderful says:

    the lawsuit is novel. the cause is noble. but to be fair, that overhead view is a bit deceiving, I worked security at sea world (SD) for awhile and the side tanks are for individual treatment and holding while the park is open… at night they are in the big tanks, there is even a special post to guard them. They may be happier in the wild, but at least they are cared for….now, up the coast at Salk Institute, different story.

  • PROF.DR.B.DSHINDE says:

    I support PETA to save animals they are the real friends of human beings.

  • Sheila says:

    YOU CAN see the whales in their natural environment, free and unrestrained, doing tricks of their own choosing and eating krill and whatever they like to eat. And the dolphins as well, in their ocean homes. LET MY ANIMAL BRETHREN GO! They are not here for monetary gain for humans. They deserve dignity and respect. They are sentient beings created by a loving Creator who loves all He created! It’s time to wake up people. “…all creatures great and small; all things wise and wonderful, the Lord God made them all!” Let us all stand with the whales and stand up for them and demand that they be free as they were intended to be and pray unceasingly for peace for all living beings.

  • Lynn Trelles-Gaines says:

    I love it. I love it, I love it. Now lets sue the circus. I do not go to the circus or any place where animals are slaves.

  • P.C. says:

    This would great beyond my wildest dreams! This could be a landmark case to see if humans are ready to evolve in a compassionate and necessary direction for the future. Supposing this were to pass, it’s still unfortunate that empty robes have to contemplate these human atrocities. Just do the right thing people. May all beings be free from suffering.

  • Susan Kohn says:

    This is a incredible action. But like Tawnie said – what about the other creatures violently taken from their natural habitat and sometimes their “families” to perform tricks for humans? Please extend the fight to include them too. Kudos PETA.

  • jennifer critelli says:

    I think this is a complex situation. I think the whales and dolphins are meant to be free. But I think people love seaworld because other wise we wouldn’t. Be able to see these beautiful creatures up close. When we visit we don’t think that they are no longer free.they can’t live their life as God intended.we don’t want to see them confined. They probably get frustrated and tired of the tricks that is why they lash out.then a trainer gets injury or killed. As for. A trainer I believe they do this because they love the whales and dolphins. The movie cove was an eye opening movie. I cried how can we do this to something so beautiful sad we wont get to see these creatures up close any longer. But who are we to own gods creatures.they are so large that is why God gave them the ocean. Swim free babies swim

  • Yuka Sugi says:

    All life is equal, the individual is. Whether, please return them in a natural setting.

  • Tawnie says:

    This is fantastic but what about the dolphins,rays,eels,turtles and all the other animals held captive at seaworld???

  • Jackie says:

    This is brilliant! Way to go PETA.

  • Kim Lores says:

    I’m thrilled with PETA finding a way to do this! Go PETA!

  • Canflyby says:

    This is great i hate to see animals held captive and suffering outside of their natural habitat. One question though what would this mean for riding horses and drug sniffing dogs?

  • imterrie says:

    Stop using these beautiful animals for profit! You will regret it someday.

  • Tracy Horvath says:

    Please release these magnificent animals to sanctuaries that can provide them with an appropriate and more natural environment. They are not our property. It sickens me to think of the conditions that they must endure at Seaworld. Its blatant cruelty.

  • Leonora Velasco de Pijoan says:

    unthinkable, it is as if we had human babies in a cage without being able to move or walk, only for a few moments and within a minimal space and restricted to obeying orders. The result would, most likely be a monster in all forms

  • Joy M. Harvick says:

    I want every1 2 b a vegetarian. That’s why I support PeTA. I think PeTA should b spending it’s precious resources in better ways though. This lawsuit just makes us look silly 2 the rest of the world. Please spend your $ saving the animals that r getting cruely slaughtered 4 meat & fur & tortured in unnecessary experiments instead!!!

  • Ash says:

    What about Lolita? Kick Seaworld’s butt and then do the same to the Miami Seaquarium!

  • Delanne says:

    I am sure that you notice that the fin on orcas’ back is usually not upright when they are held captive. Orcas in the wild ha s normal upright fin. They do not belong a captive environment

  • Rosa Maria says:

    I feel shame as a human beeing…

  • Alexis says:

    The poor Orcas are obviously not happy. It is one thing to have an animal in a comfortable and natural environment but Sea World is keeping these poor animals in tanks that give them no room to enjoy themselves!! They get no interactions with other animals and this is horrible animal cruelty! This is slavery at its finest and it MUST BE STOPPED!!!!!!

  • silvia bell says:

    please treat other intelligent, sentient beings like you want to be treated. what goes around comes around.

  • Nancy Pennington says:

    Bravo Peta for recognizing slavery! These imprisoned creatures are indeed slaves as are zoo and circus elephants.

  • Sonia Brodine Kreider says:

    Please release these creatures.

  • Robin M says:

    Hopefully there will be some justice for these five! :)

  • Brandon Becker says:

    Humans are the only rights-holding animals, as all other animals are defined as property. This lawsuit can overturn the property status of orcas (and others by extension) and is to be applauded. It does not matter if the hopes for a win are slim, it must be tried simply for the public debate it will create.

  • Me says:

    That is so sad. I have taken my son once to Sea World Orlando at his request for his birthday. I always make it a point to tell him and let him know captive orcas are not the way they should live their lives.

  • Linda Hoffecker says:

    How can anyone with a shred of conscience condone capturing these wild animals and making them perform?? If one gets maimed or killed, who is punished? I have no sympathy for people who work with these creatures.

  • tali says:

    Orca’s are such beautiful, intelligent creatures… people think because they are animals they are fine and can adjust. SeaWorld purports to be a place that supports animals, not imprison them… so they should stop immediately.

  • SETH says:

    All Orcas should be released into the Wild IMMEDIATELY !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Blackstone Group is a CRIMINAL ORGANIZATION to PERSIST in keeping these WONDERFUL Mammals captive in Seaworld !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • AndyPandy says:

    THANK YOU PETA! Why do a majority of people continue to think animals are here to entertain us? Is it because they think they are intellectually superior?

  • Phyllis says:

    Animals are born to free not to abuse them

  • John Brooks says:

    As a former federal agent for the US Fish and Wildlife Service, I support this 100%.

  • Hamon says:

    thank you so much for taking actions against seaworld.. at last ! shame on sea world..

  • drew says:

    While there is much about PETA i may not agree with, this is not one of those things. This is a very earthane thing you do!

  • Linda says:

    From the view..I think Sea World,would have better living conditions for their stars..Whales should be gotten ready for their release back where they were taken from…

  • Brittany Sokolowski says:

    Just give them space!!! And treat them nicely!!

  • giorgia olga rossi says:

    I think that not only orvcas but also dalphins seals and any animal keot ina zoo should be living in protected reserves with large spaces and its habitat

  • jennifer says:

    Yes yes yes!!! I pray you win and if you do, by by puppy mills too!! Thank you for going after them, whales are the most beautiful creatures and deserve their freedom!

  • Luz Baraya says:

    I am against animal cruelty and large mammals can not be held in captivity, they belong to the ocean.

  • Michele Krakowski says:

    Shamu show should be canceled. large mammals like orcas should not be preforming/ entertainment. Seaworld isnt helping them instead killing them. They belong in the wild.

  • GarrettGirls says:

    This is disgusting and why I don’t like zoos and other displays of inhumanity. Awful. They wonder then why these animals get frustrated and bang their heads against glass. They aren’t violent, they are sad and want to be in the places they should be.

  • Julie Strickland says:

    Utterly Despicable!!!

  • chris gilbee says:

    I am shocked that SeaWorld continues to exploit marine animals for entertainment despite the many tragedies that the park has faced, including the horrifying recent incident in which a trainer was killed by a whale and the deaths of numerous captive orcas. These events did not have to happen, and I appeal to you to take strong action now so that similar tragedies never occur again. The intelligent, social ocean animals kept in the pitifully small tanks at SeaWorld are denied everything that is natural and important to them. Please make the humane decision to start moving the captive orcas and other marine mammals to transitional coastal and wildlife sanctuaries and replace them with state-of-the-art virtual reality and animatronic exhibits that wow youngsters and adults alike.

  • sally says:

    I am behind you 100% and would like to see you do the same for animal testing. They are being held against their will and factory farming. I am so glad to see someone finally stepping up and challenging laws for animals.

  • LaNell says:

    PETA, this is genius!

  • Trevor Dobrinich says:

    Pathetic, Pathetic, Pathetic. It’s like asking every single one of you to live in an airplane seat for you entire life. NO ANIMAL FACILITY OR ZOO SHOULD HAVE ANIMALS WHICH INCLUDE, BUT NOT EXCLUSIVE TO WHALES, DOLPHINS, AND ELEPHANTS. IT IS PURE TORTURE FOR ANIMALS WHOSE ONLY CRIME IS THEIR BEAUTY. SHAME ON AMERICA, AND SHAME ON THE SILENT & UNEDUCATED.

  • Nick says:

    God Bless PETA! <3

  • solariana says:

    I agree, but I dont think Seaworld is gonna let anyone touch those whales, they make them so much money and are the center of that park. The situation is very sad but I hope they atleast improve their living conditions because of this.

  • Christopher says:

    There is another way to look at this though, maybe the dolphins LIKE their work. They do get fed even for a single flip or trick.

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