PETA Sues SeaWorld Over Killer Whale Enslavement

Attorneys argue the mammals should be protected by the 13th Amendment

By Emily Feldman
|  Tuesday, Feb 7, 2012  |  Updated 5:16 PM EDT
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The five orca plaintiffs live at SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Diego.

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Five killer whales got their day in court Monday.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, the vocal group behind those eye-popping anti-fur ads, filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld for capturing and "enslaving" orcas named as plaintiffs in the case.

At a Monday hearing in San Diego, PETA Attorney Jeffrey Kerr argued that the big mammals should be protected under the 13th Amendment.

"Tilikum, Katina, Kasatka, Ulises and Corky have been captive and subjected to treatment that we feel is slavery," Kerr told U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller, who is now weighing SeaWorld's request to toss the case, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Miller noted that there is no legal precedent for protecting animals under the 13th Amendment.

SeaWorld argued the consequences of setting such a precedent could be difficult to contain and may lead to cases brought against police departments and the military for their use of service dogs.

"We're talking about hell unleashed," The San Francisco Chronicle quoted SeaWorld attorney Theodore Shaw as saying. "Neither orcas nor any other animal were included in the 'We the people' ... when the Constitution was adopted."

Judge Miller said he would review all the information before deciding whether to dismiss or proceed with the case.

PETA officials heralded the hour-long hearing as a victory in and of itself.

"This is truly a historic day for the law and for the animals," spokesman David Perle said. Kerr added that "for the first time in our nation's history, a federal court heard arguments as to whether living, breathing, feeling beings have rights and can be enslaved simply because they happen to not have been born human."

SeaWorld called the lawsuit a "publicity stunt" without merit.

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