When an individual is removed from his or her home by force, imprisoned, made to work, and forever denied their freedom, it’s called “slavery.” In October 2011, PETA filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld in behalf of five wild-captured orcas seeking a declaration that these five orcas are slaves and subjected to involuntary servitude in violation of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Joined by three orca experts and two former SeaWorld trainers, PETA’s lawsuit asserts that the conditions under which these orcas live constitute the very definition of slavery.
The plaintiffs in the case, Tilikum, Katina, Kasatka, Ulises, and Corky, were captured and taken from their ocean homes and families and are confined to the equivalent of concrete bathtubs, where they are forced to earn money for SeaWorld by performing for customers’ entertainment. They have also been turned into virtual breeding machines in order to provide more performers for SeaWorld’s cruel shows.
The case seeks the release of all five orcas to a more appropriate environment, such as a coastal sanctuary. Protected sea pens would allow orcas greater freedom of movement as well as the opportunity to see, sense, and communicate with their wild cousins and other ocean animals; to feel the tides and waves; and to engage in the behaviors that they’ve long been denied. Eventually, they could be released into the ocean to be reunited with their pods.
Of course, SeaWorld wants the case to be dismissed, but on January 13, our legal team filed a brief opposing SeaWorld’s motion, and the case will be argued on February 6, 2012. So mark your calendars: That day that will go down in history as the first time that a U.S. court considers constitutional rights for animals.
Keen legal minds behind the revolutionary lawsuit include that of Jeffrey Kerr, general counsel to PETA. Kerr has defended animals for 16 years and also established and serves as general counsel to PETA’s international affiliates around the world.
Renowned civil rights attorney Phil Hirschkop—who argued and won the landmark Loving v. Virginia case, which declared unconstitutional the laws banning interracial marriage—has also joined the legal team.
“Forty years ago I fought for the fundamental right of people to marry the person of their choosing, regardless of race,” says Hirschkop. “Now I’m fighting for these orcas’ fundamental rights to be free from enslavement regardless of their species.”
PETA’s brief cites more than 200 years of U.S. Supreme Court precedent, including such landmark cases as Dred Scott, Brown v. Board of Education, and Loving, to establish that the orcas’ species does not deny them the right to be free under the 13th Amendment and that long-established prejudice does not determine constitutional rights.
Legal circles are abuzz with the news, and scholars have expressed support for the case. Harvard law professor and constitutional scholar Laurence H. Tribe said, “People may well look back on this lawsuit and see in it a perceptive glimpse into a future of greater compassion for species other than our own.”
Please join us in watching PETA make history in behalf of orcas, and in the meantime, never buy a ticket to SeaWorld or any facility that enslaves animals for profit and pleasure.