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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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  • facepalm says:

    The creatures at Seaworld (or any other zoo) are saved from the wild, not stolen. They are taken to the zoo for care. If they are able to set them free again, they do. Any animal that can’t survive in the wild is kept at the zoo for the remainder of their lives. If saving animals is considered slavery than what is this world coming to?

  • Samantha says:

    we need to find a new home for these beautiful orcas! we cant fully release them, but they need a more enjoyable loving home! I wish we all could just find a place and build some amazing place for abused marine life!

  • Erika D says:

    Once brought into captivity to release the Orcas back into the wild would be far to risky and extremely unlikely they would survive, it would be in effect more punishment upon the creature. However I think the better fight PETA could be pursuing would be more space for all of their marine life; dolphins, sealions, and Orcas(which are of the dolphin family the Belugas are the only whales in Seaworld parks). PETA should be fighting for more interactive and spacious living tanks for the marine life just putting a couple toys in the small tanks is not cutting it. The current living spaces for the Orcas is the most vapid of all the tanks I saw at the behind the scenes at Seaworld. The resue efforts and medical attention at Seaworld is great and much of the shows are actually more than just entertainment for people it is stimulation for the social marine life. Providing the Orcas with more space would be a huge improvement.

  • Achick says:

    Letting to orcas, or any other animal in the park for that matter, go free will warrant a death sentence for them. You can’t just take an animal that has been raised it’s whole life in captivity, toss it out in the ocean, or wherever it lives, and expect it to thrive. They never learned to hunt for themselves, and they’re used to being hand fed. Honestly, these animals are better off where they are.

    • Jason Peysen says:

      Have you witness the size of the holding tanks these animals are kept in? Its sometimes just the distants from their heads to there tails, swimming in circles, how is that better off just leaving them where they are? The largest male seaworld has no longer even swims around anymore, he floats in one place seperate from every other orca at seaworld. Watch the documentary Blackfish and then tell me how there lives are so wonderfull living the way they do.

  • Nikki4716 says:

    Is there any actual scientific proof of Orcas being released and dying due to lack of survival skills? Even dogs, considered a less intellectual species when compared to Orcas or even Dolphins, when abandoned after human captivity will resume their original animal instincts. They form packs, establish territories, and protect and defend both in a working and social group. Who is to say or prove that Orcas – far more intellectual – cannot or will not do the exact same thing? Given the chance of human absence – nature will and always does survive and prosper. It is not a lack of the human component, but nature’s willingness and survival adaptation that has, and will always, exist and conquer.

  • Really? says:

    do you realize how many whales die because they’re hunted down? A lot, including orcas. if they’re set free they’ll be hunted down like the rest of them, unless they starve first. The stunts performed in the show are to get people to come to the atration so they can have money to take care of them. put in other words, people = money, money = food for the animals animals – food = dead animals. The orcas are just helping so their care takers can take care of them! Duh. the law suit won’t help anything you’re just going to kill the whales

  • Cinder says:

    Why is everyone jumping on the bandwagon to release them? Releasing them will do nothing but kill the animal – the same goes for any animal, whether it is a horse, orca, or otherwise. Why not advocate larger space for the orcas? That would be a reasonable compromise, as releasing them into the wild will be inhumane. Sometimes, I do not think half of you think about these things.

  • brendon says:

    i thought this was the onion…

  • Anonymous says:

    If these orca whales are released, they will die. They never learned how to survive in the wild. I’m not saying it’s right, I’m just pointing out the obvious fact that they are better off where they are than starving to death in the wild. Some “ethical treatment” you’re encouraging.

  • Wow says:

    I know! Lets release ALL the captive animals in the world! So they can all die because they can’t find food for themselves….

  • Realism says:

    It would be great if they weren’t an endangered species. In reality, ensuring the survival of these animals doesn’t come free..

  • Eric l says:

    The orcas break my heart they are such beautiful creaturs ilove the orcasss!!!!

  • Josh Lutz says:

    I think that the orcas are being treated really cruel. They don’t even have the chance to resist.

  • Barbara Diaz says:

    Seaworld is so 60’s, I didn’t like it as a child and I don’t like it as an adult. I wonder if Orcas are an endangered species. SEAWORLD would be respectable if it became a MARINE RESCUE/SANTUARY instead of what it is now.

  • CandiHart says:

    My family and I live 10 minutes from Sea World Orlando. It breaks my heart when children go there, see these amazing animals behind glass and that they don’t fully understand the circumstances that these animals live in. My son loves whales, and we will never again visit any animal theme parks. Instead I will save money and travel to the NW and see them in there natural habitat.

  • Bob says:

    Just let the orcas go. And let all of the fish in aquariums go.

  • Kaden kangas says:

    I love orcas

  • Stacy says:

    Okay, people go to SeaWorld everyday and only see the good side of SeaWorld. Behind the scenes is hell. Just from seeing this picture, I am never going to go to SeaWorld.I will just show my friends and parents this article.SCREW SEAWORLD!!!

  • animal lover 123 says:

    animals have the same rights as we do. im only 12 and im vegetarian but my bff is being forced ti eat meat or she was grounded till she did. i am vegetarian because of her and i love her THANK YOU

  • Beryl Maher says:

    I will boycot sea world until they stop all cruelty.

  • prettygirl says:

    even if the law suit doesnt pass at least this will draw attention to what eaworld is really doing instead of what you see on the commericals

  • Marie says:

    When my parents took me to sea world a few years back, I just wanted to get out of the park. I’m against using animals for entertainment. They have to be all day performing with a ‘few minutes’ of rest to then performe on the evening and then the night. END ANIMAL CRUELTY!!!

  • Braden anderson says:

    This is way too cruel, why don’t they just let them be?

  • Jon says:

    I really like the orcas but I didn’t know they live like that. Feel so sorry

  • Izzy says:

    Down with Sea World!

  • MVGIRLIE1000 says:

    Why does Seaworld have to do this? Its really cruel. They know what they are doing to the Orcas, they are harming them! How do they expect an orca to do a well performance all the time and to have a long life if they keep them in a small little area just their size and not keeping them in a nice big pool where they can have freedom?

  • Megan says:

    I completely agree with this statement and I do not think sea world should be functioning at all.

  • anonymous says:

    Oh no…I am definitely against inhumane treatment of these beautiful animals but I am not sure this 13th amendment claim is going to fly in court. I would be absolutely shocked (in a good way) if it works, but Seaworld’s defense is pretty plainly laid out: you can’t apply this amendment to animals :( I hope for the best results possible, these animals deserve so much better than this.

  • vincenzo says:

    NO COMMENT,ONLY STOP TO CRUELTY!!!!!!!!!!!!! Vincenzo Italia

  • Aylen Izquierdo says:

    I am very happy about this lawsuit, but this should have been done for Lolita the whale that is in Miami Seaquarium, who has suffered there for over 35 years. please PETA help her too! and the other wildlife condemmned to that horrid crumbling place.

  • katejarvis14 says:

    LOVE LOVE LOVE what you are standing for. Please don’t let ignorant people tell you what you guys stand for is wrong. One day, when I am old enough, I will join you in the fight against animal cruelty. I too think this is slavery, and everyone who says it isn’t is just jealous they don’t have a passion as strong as all we do.

  • Nikki says:

    It blows my mind how so many people find watching enslaved, unhappy, mistreated animals entertaining. It’s unbelievably disgusting.

  • giovanna says:

    Stop this cruelty Giovanna Italia

  • Dana says:

    Free them to there natural surroundings. I pray for there release and freedom..

  • Mimi says:

    I have learned from PETA and many other organizations fighting for animal rights that I can’t limit the compassion I feel for any living thing based on looks and intelligence. People tell us the animal is not intelligent so therefore why complain about situations like this one? Because if people like me and millions of others don’t speak out for these magnificent animals’ who will? Change is coming and for those who criticize PETA for speaking out and try to save animals’ all over the world, these individuals have no conscious and feel no remorse. People who profit off any other living animals misery have no right to try to tell people like us to get out of their way. Well think again we are not going anywhere and everyday more and more people are standing up and telling the world no amount of money can be justified on the suffering of highly intelligent beautiful animals.

  • Elizabeth says:

    .It is sickening the abuse of animals on the Earth. Keep up the good work Peta. Thank you, thank you.

  • MARYAM says:

    STTTTTTTTTTTTTTTOP THIS CRUEL BEHAVIOUR !!!!! FOR GOD SAKE !!!!

  • Anonymous says:

    Rock on PETA! Way to fight the good fight! We are behind you all the way!!!!!!!!!!

  • MARTINEZ SYLVETTE says:

    how is il possible ? STOP IT !

  • GARCIA ANNIE says:

    STOP IT !

  • Louise says:

    This is FANTASTIC! It’s sad to me how many people out there do not see that taking animals out out the wild and putting them in situations like this is abuse and slavery. I feel sickened thinking about them living a life in a small pool of water their entire lives. :( WAY TO GO PETA!!!!

  • keepwhaleswild says:

    Keeping Orca’s & Dolphins in such confinement is quite simply wrong, just look at their tanks! Its the equivalent of keeping a lion in a 3×3 m cage. Its selfish and driven by profit, all Blackstone care about is money. In March 2010 the Humane Society for the US sent a letter to Blackstone requesting a meeting to discuss Tilikum’s future after the traggic loss of Dawn’s life. The proposal was to release Tilikum to a sea pen, giving him a much better quaility of life for the rest of his days. Blackstone REFUSED and instead Tilly spent the next 13 months in solitary confinement he is now again used in shows but never touched by his ‘trainers’. I do alot of campaigning for the end to this barbaric use of intelligent life. And I will keep campaigning as long as I live. I have had some very interesting emails from seaworld after my complaints to them, they think that because the Orcas have 1000’s of litres of water to swim in and that they are fed and have ‘unrichment’ programmes for the Orcas that this is sufficient to keep them ‘happy’. Like they are dogs. These Orcas to seaworld are nothing more that performing commodities. In the last 25 years one Orca has died in captivity every year and not through old age but through pneumonia, and infections which get into their blood stream via the holes that are drilled into their gums due to tooth damage due to gnawing at the pen gates in their pools and gnawing on concrete walls. This has to end and I hope this campaign will open the flood gates and we will see a fazing out of Orca’s in captivity. Well done PETA!

  • Eva says:

    Wish that things could be reversed so we can see those people living in the same manner that those orcas are, maybe then, they will understand the suffering they impose. Sometimes people do not understand unless they go through the same things as others.

  • Animal lover says:

    PETA keep up the good work u guys inspire everyone and there needs to be more people like you

  • Erin says:

    Please save the animals there

  • Margaret says:

    Wake up, Sea World ! Surely you can see the deprivation endured by these lovely creatures…… if you can’t, they’re much smarter than you. Besides, performing animals these days are passe and boring. FREE THE LOT OF THEM !

  • LORRAINE A. CRIMANDO says:

    Orcas are so intelligent and virtually harmless to humans. Why humans have the audacity to imprison them and misuse them is simply a mystery to every animal conscious person. I am certain I would much prefer to see orcas in their natural environment than performing stupid tricks. Orcas are an endangered species and based upon this fact alone, should not be used for commercial purposes. The orcas in question are not being kept to protect them. They are being imprisoned for the financial benefit of the amusement of people. Orcas must and should be free.

  • Carlos Delgado says:

    These mammals should live free and not caged. I don’t care if they say they are in adequate living conditions. How can you compare the open ocean to a pool. My only concern is if they will be able to adapt to a free environment. I hold your organization responsible to make it happen at what ever cost.

  • marly says:

    Orcas need be free!!!

  • colleen gilbee 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.

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