Skip to Main Content

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.

Commenting is closed.
  • Elizabeth says:

    Don’t believe in caged animals for entertainment or research. It’s a money making business where animals lose, no advantage to humans, other than greed. Stop the bull.

  • Beatriz says:


  • doglover says:

    Conditions for the Orcas notwithstanding, if this case is won, do we have to let our pet dogs roam free with no leases or fences? To confine them would make them our slaves. Do dogs – and for that matter any animal kept by humans – have free will? Should they be unrestained as well. Certainly there should be no more zoos!

  • Ana says:

    We are living in a world that seems like to be loosing sight of what is right and wrong, what is good or bad… Wild animals are suppose to be were they belong: the wild. There is a circle of life that is not suppose to be change by us.

  • Littlenan says:

    It is utterly sickening how we use and abuse every other living creature on the Earth to “enhance” our own lives at the expense of theirs. Keep up the good work PETA.

  • Blondie228 says:

    Confining these graceful animals and not allowing them to fulfill their lives at nature intended is cruel. I also think that denying the millions of people and researchers the opportunity to interact with these wonderful animals where we would normally not being able to have access to them advances not only our understanding of them but of ourselves and our entire ecosystem. Releasing these tamed animals into the wild is no longer a choice as they are no longer native to it. It is a death sentence either way. I feel that PETA is not looking at the bigger picture. The knowledge to be gained from our joint species personal interaction is key and PETA should be fighting to procure better accommodations, not release. I definitely think that PETA should be petitioning SeaWorld with the enormous task to create habitats/sanctuaries/nature parks in which we can observe these animals and allow them to entertain us in way in which the animal chooses to. Preserving animals for the future and adopting cooperative breeding programs is the wave of the future….think of the Cheetah. Cheetahs have all been exterminated and are on the brink of extinction. There is a fine line between interaction and extinction and together is the only way humans and animals will be able to walk in the future side by side.

  • karen says:


  • Patty Bowers says:

    You ROCK PETA! Good for you and good for the whales. I hope we win! No conscious person would go to Sea World! It’s cruel, barbaric, unconscionable, unhealthy & depressing for the animals, and agonizing for even those of us who DON’T go! ALL these issues always get down to money and since animals can’t speak or fight for themselves it’s easy for others to take advantage of them for their own selfish gain. The Law of karma will get them in the end, but we want the suffering to stop NOW! THANK YOU PETA! My favorite org. Patty

  • MARIU says:

    Good job PETA all they care is the money they can get out of these beautiful animals.

  • Mat says:

    Umm – the 13th amendment already protects non-human entities. It is what is used to protect the legal status of corporations. So, yeah the Supreme Court will either have to uphold precedent and apply it to the whales or rule the 13th only applies to humans and so corporations can no longer be protected. Which would hold CEO’s and B.O.D.’s criminally liable for their actions – Good Job PETA ! ! !

  • liam says:

    that is sad, so is human slavery

  • miss.laura says:

    Money the worst thing that could ever exist…it only leads to greed and selfishness…people will do anything in exchange for money and not care for others…such as these animals who were meant to be free, free to roam, and not meant to be caged and be shown off in for entertainment in benefit of receiving millions…they should be free like us !

  • Mike says:

    I suggest you take more time to consider all the positive things SeaWorld does. Education is most important to SW and every year they rescue hundreds of animals and return them to their natural environment. The pool with Tillikum in it is just a small holding pool where trainers may do check ups to make sure they are healthy. Those whales don’t stay there for long amounts of time. Killer whales also do not die because of captivity. In fact, many of SeaWorld’s animals live far past their life expectancy in the wild. Plus, think about it, why do you think so many people know so much about killer whales and care about them?… because SW has made a name for them.

  • ? says:

    That is way too small if they want to keep it. They should let it go and enjoy, they might have taken it from its family. 🙁 Whats wrong with the world

  • Rose says:

    Sure PETA, the animals needs to be better taken care of, especially the animal that is confined in the smaller pool where swimming in circles is the only way of exercise. However, as you mentioned earlier these animals have been kept in captivity since they were young, so by releasing these animals out into the ocean or so called “nature” do you think they will have the ability to survive? whales, orcas do spend a long time with their mother before reaching independence.

  • Jess says:

    I do agree that it is unfair and unethical to treat such a social complex creature in that manner. Taking a creature from it’s natural environment with all the space it needs, to a tinny little pool would expend a enormous amount of stress on the animal. The connection to slavery though seems weak at the best. Just as freedom of speech and harassment are a blurred line so is this example of slavery.

  • Lori says:

    I agree that they need to better taken care of. I would like to see them all freed but they are also used for education and up close encounters so people can see them, touch them and love them and therefor want to help take care of them. How can we find a balance. Better care bugger facilities, I mean huge ones. How do we find a way to make people care about them and want to save them without them being caged up? Documentaries, up close encounters in their natural habitat? I’m all for anything that doesn’t involve them being in a “fishbowl!”

  • Ni221 says:

    Boycott Seaworld!!!!!!!!!!!!!! woohoooo!!

  • Ni says:

    Thank You PETA! There is NO question. Orcas should not be captured and put in captivity to die a lonely death. Look at the size of that tank! Look at it, come on people! If people would just read one book, just one, to understand how these animals live and where they come from.. they are a family unit. They die in captivity. It is immoral. It is unconstitutional. Humans ruin everything. What makes the human race almighty? To take whatever and whomever they want and do whatever they want! Orcas should live free!!! Go PETA, I am SO proud of you!! Email me if you need support, I am So happy an agency with power is finally doing something! Yay PETA, you are doing the right thing!!

  • Dawn says:

    FYI, not all animals are enslaved to humans. I have a dog and he could run away at anytime. Most days I do not have him on a leash. Why dosen’t he run away? Because he is cared for, feed and played with constantly. He IS NOT my slave. PETA rocks! Thanks for doing all the great work you do! I am a proud supporter, and I am very happy that I can help.

  • blanca says:

    For all those that are saying that using amendment 13 is excessive. Consider this don’t you think that removing an innocent animal from it’s mother from it’s original habitiat just to make millions of dollars is EXCESSIVE? Basically just for the love of money..COME ON PEOPLE. We are really doomed if we don’t change the way we live our lives JUST ON MONEY AND GREED! This green paper really is the consuming many ..too many SOULS! As mother Teresa said “We must not be surprised when we hear of murders, of killings, of wars, of hatred. If a mother can kill her own child, what is left but for ust to kill each other.” Man o Man was she right.

  • Tim says:

    The success of this case will mean that any animal held in a cage,a pool or behind a fence must be freed. It’s important to identify that all animals used and exploited by humans are slaves and the success of this case will decide the future treatment and liberation of all animals from human servitude, torture, and killing in the USA, then hopefully the rest of the world!

  • CERonning says:

    What are these people thinking! It is beyond human comprehension that a corporation would treat any living thing like this for gain! It must be stopped once and for all! There is no justification for any of this! Lets all get this taken care of!

  • Ryan says:

    I hope one day humans are able to reach a level of morality to look back on these actions the same way we view the slavery of African Americans today. Unfortunately, I don’t believe we’ve reached a level where Americans will take this case seriously, but hopefully a few minds will be opened to the concept of granting human rights to animals. Keep fightin’ the good fight.

  • Holly says:

    I am so happy for PETA! Look at the movie Free Willy. Although I watched it growing up, I was so happy when he was free. I always dreamed this day would come. The movie really showed the ugly truth and now with the work PETA is doing justice can be served!

  • Lisa Denise Nelson says:

    I WILL NEVER EVER GO TO SEAWORLD AGAIN!!!!!! It seems that makeing money is more important to them!!!

  • Amelia says:

    Humans have by far failed as good stewards. We cage or kill every living thing. So strange that we would take a migratory mammal that swims thousands of miles annually and put him in a tiny fishbowl. What’s worse is IT’S BY THE OCEAN! Why would we put a fishbowl next to the ocean??? We have lost our way….

  • Personwithcommonsense says:

    Dear PETA followers, As a 10th grader I am very well aware of the United States Constitution. This lawsuit has over looked an essential three words of the constitution. These three words were chosen carefully by the founding fathers so no individual could mistake their meaning. “We the people […]” The definition of people is “humman beings, as distinguished from animals or other beings”. The constitution was written on the basic principals of John Locke’s “Natural rights of man”, and to further clarify what man is, the definition is “a member of the species Homo sapiens or all the members of this species collectively”. This argument failed by over looking the first three words of the US constitution.

  • David F. says:

    You can not separate the suffering of one creature verses another (humans/animals). Suffering is suffering, abuse is abuse. We are connected together since the beginning of time and that deep connection is just beginning to be understood. The pain we cause others (all beings) causes pain to ourselves. The world will not find peace until that is understood. Hurray for PETA for taking action on the part of all beings!

  • Matt says:

    God forgive us for our sins. Idk how you can justify such cruel and unusual punishment. Which incidentally people are protected by that law. We need to force congress to pass an amendment protecting animals from cruel and unusual punishment. An we need the federal government to get their hands dirty and make sure no animal goes without help. We must stop being selfish and help these poor animals. How would you feel if you were locked in a cage? How would you feel if you were forced to do something you didn’t wanna do? How would you feel if someone beat you with a rod if you didn’t do what you were told? These devils need to think about that.



  • Nicole says:

    Just to add to my previous comment for those of you who find it ridiculous to let them go because they don’t know how to survive in the wild. The calves were taken from their mother’s in the wild, and if it wasn’t for people capturing them, there would be no issue of these poor animals survival skills. They weren’t given the chance to learn survival methods from their mother or pod because we deprived them of that. They only know tricks and have no experience as a wild animal. They take them as calves out of the wild, and think about it…why take them as calves??? I’ll tell you. They’re easily trained and don’t know how to kill for food yet. All they know is that the way to get food is through tricks. I guess that’s why it’s so easy for a human to get in the water with a naturally meat eating animal.

  • Marc says:

    Animals and especially cetaceans reason like humans. They are sentient beings. Everything in Nature is Sacred and therefore must be treated with respect and compassion. If we could just understand this, we wouldn’t be using violence to solve conflicts; if we were more compassionate and treated all life with dignity we wouldn’t be supporting wars of any kind. As it stands we are paying billions of dollars a day with our tax dollars to make wars for free, while higher education is highly expensive and not tax free? Have you asked yourselves why?

  • nathan duncan says:

    there should be whale rights!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Elizabeth says:

    Rights have nothing to do with the intelligence of whom they protect. If they did, only intelligent humans would be protected, which would leave the vast majority unprotected. Rights are about protecting a weaker group from being abused by a more powerful group. People in power have never willingly given rights to weaker groups – it always requires a fight. Good for PETA for continuing the fight.

  • Jourdan says:

    HUMAN RIGHTS ARE JUST AS IMPORTANT AS ANIMAL RIGHTS! If anything Animals should have more rights than humans because they cannot defend for themselves. So, thats where we have wonderful people at PETA to enforce things like this! The Ocras should be freed or at least put them back in the ocean with a tag of some sort on them so we can track them and record what they are doing. Real life is more interesting than Ocras doing seal tricks!

  • Brian says:

    The equation people = animals can be debated. The equation Legal Rights for People = Legal Rights for Animals is just absurd. In fact the implication of slavery of people to slavery of animals can be considered insulting. Keep up your work..pick a better method.

  • pamelapossum says:

    I agree with what PETA is trying to achieve here. Intelligence has nothing to do with this matter – saying an animal species has not as much intelligence – what if it were a brain-injured person or someone with dementia – would you say they are not to be protected from slavery? The issue is one of suffering and justice

  • Alexandra says:

    Yes, I don t want animals, creatures of God, the poor of them, with eternal souls, I don t want animals to suffer.

  • kamikazevegan says:

    i hate hate hate hate hate hate HATE!!! SeaWorld. it can rot in hell for all i care. those poor orcas! once i did a report on orcas in elemantary and i looked at some sites…not one of them had a positive word about SeaWorld, and i looked at PROFFESIONAL sites, like from colleges and stuff. may God have much, much forgiveness for, you, Seaworld.

  • PETA17 says:

    I think that the ownership of wild animals should not be outlawed. I simply think that People should have to go through serious classes and have weekly check ups on how the animals are being kepted. I think if people want to own them they need to be very serious about it not just do it for the fun of it. it should be like owning a child or a house you should have to have certain income and everything so that you can take not good but amazingly great care of them. not just anyone. Sea World for example, They have the money to take care of them. they are fed and loved. I don’t think that PETA should base their arguement off of “slavery” What exactly do they want Sea World to do? Set them free into a environment that they no longer know how to surrvive in? Remember Kecho? That didn’t work so well. I don’t mean disrespect to PETA but still they should focous on the animals that they can try to save, only because setting these whales free would be killing them.

  • CycloneMetal says:

    Orcas do not need the same rights as humans. As far as we know, orcas do not have the same level of intelligence as humans, therefore they do not meet the requirements of the same rights as humans.

  • FocusOnTheTopic says:

    The point is, we don’t have rights to cage these animals by force just imagine some other higher specie come to Earth and make us to perform monkey shows… Doesnt matter how PETA is doing this, it is doing something good for the sake of other species…

  • Nicole says:

    I believe in PETA’s efforts to set free Orcas at Sea World. Yes, using the 13th Amendment is a little much, but the point is to stop animal cruelty. When an animal is taken out of the wild it is animal cruelty from my perspective. My first issue is people having the ability to cage exotic animals in their homes (Tigers, Lions etc) Does anyone realize that Tigers are endangered, and in the the US we have more Tigers in captivity at people’s homes than in the wild. No animal should be kept in captivity, and for all of you dog lovers… envision your dog kept in a cage all day, let me remind you that this is not a big cage. The only time they’re let out is to perform a trick to receive a small treat. At least with dogs we take them out to the park, let them run and exercise and they’re not kept in a cage 24/7. Why don’t you all take a look at how massive the ocean is for these wild animals and compare it to a tank at Sea World. The same goes for animals at zoo. How would you like to be kept in a cage 24/7, and just learn tricks to entertain and get food. I’m sure Orcas are very well fed to have that much motivation to do a trick for something that wouldn’t even fill up a human. Oh and Sea World, to have the nerve to take calves from their mothers and pod in the wild is horrible. Did anyone know that offspring stay with their mother’s their whole life. Nice job Sea World, going out and taking calves from their mother’s into captivity. They didn’t ask to be put in a a fish tank. Animals weren’t put on this earth to entertain us, and for everyone that thinks it’s okay to treat animals that way is ignorant. Let me add in for the people who have stated, “if we release them into the wild they will die.” Well, I ASSUME that if Sea World hadn’t taken them out of the wild in the first place they would be surviving perfectly in the open sea today. No wonder calves are pulled out of the wild, they don’t have a chance to experience the wildlife and learn to survive on their own from their mother. They grow up only knowing tricks. I realize how important it is to help our own kind. No human deserves to be enslaved, and sex trafficking should be stopped. I believe that anyone involved in that treatment/business should be put in prison for life. We have many organizations, donation funds, and people going out and putting themselves at risk to stop it. Every person involved in stopping the horrible treatment of humans is amazing. I hope that everyone who wrote about those issues on this comment page is involved with helping those organizations. Don’t talk about how important a cause is and not be part of helping it. There are many organizations out there that have different causes, and PETA has a cause that’s important. We need some organization out there to protect our wildlife. Wildlife is part of our planet, and we are part of their planet.

  • Torn says:

    I have never gone to a show at Sea World. I do not go to circuses. I disagree with the treatment of animals in both of these situations, but to use the constitution and an ammendment that came about because of human suffering to disagree with these practices is assinine. Animals are not humans….period. Animal suffering is wrong, but human suffering is worse.

  • Brie says:

    fair enough that the 13th ammendment was for the african americans but its meant to be there to prevent any future slavery as well it shouldnt offend african americans they should be happy that it is helping an animal that is intellegent and beautiful and deserves the same rights as any other human being. i think its digusting that humans think they are better then any other species purely becuase we evovled differently. As for the fact that there are other worse things happening to humans THATS WHAT POLICE ARE FOR peta’s job is looking after animals dont attack them becuase the police arent doing there job properly

  • Ariah says:

    Come on people. PETA has nothing to do with your petty arguments stating that there are people in worse conditions. This is a different organization. Animals are not people and you can not compare them to humans. Go somewhere else to state your silly comments that are very ignorant and completely unrelated.

  • Floyd says:

    Wouldn’t it be a wonderful thing to take what we’ve learned in the past (as in 13th amendment) and use it to help God’s creatures? Really I don’t think God would mind. It’s man’s ego that constantly gets in the way of doing whats right. I really don’t think this cause would downplay what’s happened in the past at all. We all know it was wrong but what a great other thing that can come out of it !

  • Neniu says:

    I applaud this effort!! Thank you PETA. It is past time that the slavery of non-humans be addressed and ABOLISHED.

  • srf says:

    On PETA’s home page to the right is the RECENT POSTS – check out “Meet the Orcas…” and tell me that the video doesn’t break your heart. If a person felt nothing by watching that then I say that person is just as low consciousness as they think these animals are!