Can animals be victims of slavery? PETA thinks so and files a lawsuit on behalf of SeaWorld orcas

Orcas at SeaWorld in San Diego; photo courtesy of SeaWorld

The Associated Press reported that People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is planning to file a lawsuit on October 26, 2011 asking federal courts “to grant constitutional rights to five killer whales who perform at marine parks.”

Specifically, PETA is alleging that SeaWorld keeps whales in conditions that violate the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude. PETA claims those rights are not limited to humans.

I don’t make this stuff up.

I can understand concerns over animals kept in captivity for entertainment purposes. I’m not sure which side of the fence I’m on in that debate. I hate to see animals abused. But today I went to go see the elephant parade when the circus train came to town because … well, doggone it, how often do you get to see an elephant up close and personal? (The train was hours late, I went home, I missed the chance to parade with the pachyderms. But Bandit and I had fun chatting with people).

In the AP story, representatives for “SeaWorld said any effort to extend the 13th Amendment’s protections beyond humans ‘is baseless and in many ways offensive.’” I agree with that. Yes, I believe animals have feelings, that they communicate and feel pain and experience emotions, and those animals need to be kept in conditions that are healthy and humane and meets the needs of the animals, not just physically but spiritually as well.

And I think that depends on the animal. Border collies kept on a sheep farm are certainly not being abused. Chickens stuffed into cages in factory egg farms? That’s another story.

But to equate a whale with a human being, and to spend so much money, time and effort defending them in a lawsuit like this when actual humans are suffering around the world from poverty, war and actual human slavery … I’m not sure I can go that far. Of course, I do believe humans have an absolute responsibility to care for animals in a humane way that meets not just their physical but emotional and spiritual needs as well. But animals are not human.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit are actually five orcas: Tilikum and Katina based at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., and Corky, Kasatka and Ulises at SeaWorld San Diego. You may remember Tilikum as the orca who made national news in 2010 when he dragged his trainer underwater and she drowned. (Question: if the 13th Amendment about slavery applies to Tilikum, can he also be charged with the murder of his trainer? I’m just wondering where you draw the line.)

You can read the entire AP story here, and then come back to share your thoughts. Are heavenly creatures equal to humans when it comes to Constitutional rights?  Is PETA on the right track? Or is the claim that SeaWorld whales are slaves absurd?

  • larry

    Here is a good video on animal rights:

  • Joanne Brokaw

    I hadn’t heard of this book – but the video is definitely thought provoking. We’ll have to talk more about this subject on this blog and I’ll see if I can get a copy of the book. Thanks for the tip!