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Federal Court to Decide if Sea World Whales are Illegal Slaves

February 8, 2012 by Brett Wilkins in Animal Kingdom, Courts with 0 Comments

In an historic case, a federal court in California is set to decide whether or not amusement park animals are protected by the same constitutional rights as humans. The court will rule on whether orcas kept in captivity at Sea World parks in California and Florida are illegal “slaves.”

Slave labor?

Agence France-Presse reports that the animal advocacy group People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) filed suit in a San Diego court on behalf of five orcas, Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises, who perform water acrobatics shows at Sea World parks in Orlando and San Diego.

Tilikum drowned one of his trainers, 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau, after an Orlando show in 2010. PETA says he was confined in “complete isolation” in a small concrete tank after the deadly incident. In animals, as in humans, solitary confinement is recognized to be as inhumane and damaging as actual physical torture.

The PETA suit argues that the whales’ “employment” at Sea World violates the Constitution’s 13th Amendment prohibition on slavery.

In that suit, which was filed last October, the court is asked to declare that the animals are “held in slavery and/or involuntary servitude by defendants in violation of the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”

PETA general counsel Jeff Kerr called the case “a new frontier in civil rights.”

“Slavery does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on race, gender or ethnicity,” he argued. “Coercion, degradation and subjugation characterize slavery and these orcas have endured all three.”

District Judge Jeffrey Miller heard arguments in the case on Monday. He also reviewed Sea World’s response, which included a request to dismiss the suit. Sea World is calling PETA’s suit a “publicity stunt” and says that whales are already protected under numerous state and federal laws, including the Marine Mammal Protection Act and the Animal Welfare Act.

Sea World’s motion to dismiss the suit argues that  the 13th Amendment “only protects people, not animals, from slavery and involuntary servitude.”

But with the Supreme Court declaring that corporations are people with constitutional rights in its highly controversial 2010 Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission ruling, valid questions arise. Corporations aren’t living, breathing organisms, yet they are considered people. Whales, along with every other animal, are living, breathing organisms. If lifeless corporations enjoy constitutional rights, why shouldn’t living whales?

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