SeaWorld vs PETA: Are Killer Whales Enslaved?

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Lawyers representing People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) will go head to head with SeaWorld in Southern California in a federal court Monday.

PETA filed a lawsuit declaring that SeaWorld is holding five killer whales in slavery or involuntary servitude, in violation of the 13th Amendment. SeaWorld fought back by calling the lawsuit a baseless publicity stunt by PETA. PETA filed the 20-page complaint in October on the behalf of Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises, currently living in SeaWorld.

PETA has called the lawsuit the first attempt ever to apply the 13th Amendment to non-human animals and state that the plaintiffs were taken by force from their families and natural habitat and are being held captive at SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld Orlando.

The heart of the lawsuit will be the determination of whether or not a non-human can sue for violation of constitutional rights. The lawsuit seeks to have the whales released from bondage and ask for a permanent order against holding them captive, as well as an appointment of a legal guardian. State and federal courts have traditionally understood laws dealing with animal ownership and cruelty to apply human actions only, meaning the animals themselves could not be prosecuted or act as plaintiffs or defendants.