Saturday, 11 February 2012

Whales not slaves because they are not people, judge in SeaWorld case rules

A US federal judge has thrown out an animal rights group's lawsuit accusing SeaWorld of enslaving captive killer whales, ruling that orcas have no standing to seek the same constitutional rights as people.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (Peta) had accused the chain of aquatic theme parks of violating the rights of whales under the 13th amendment of the US constitution, which abolished slavery.

The lawsuit, filed in the US district court of San Diego, listed as plaintiffs five performing orcas at SeaWorld's parks in California and Florida: Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises.

"The only reasonable interpretation of the 13th amendment's plain language is that it applies to persons and not to non-persons such as orcas," US district judge Jeffrey Miller wrote in his ruling.
"Both historic and contemporary sources reveal that the term 'slavery' and 'involuntary servitude' refer only to persons."

The 13th amendment was enacted in 1865, the year the US civil war ended.

Legal experts previously denounced as frivolous the Peta lawsuit, which had sought a court order requiring SeaWorld to release the five killer whales to a "suitable habitat".
Miller noted in his ruling that animals did have legal rights under state and federal statutes, including criminal laws.
He added the "goal" of Peta attorneys who brought the lawsuit "to protect the welfare of orcas is laudable" even if the 13th Amendment was not the correct way to approach the case.
David Steinberg, a professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law in San Diego, told Reuters when the lawsuit was filed in October that it was "demeaning [to] the integrity and humanity of people who were owned as slaves".

Virginia-based Peta has staked out a number of controversial positions in the past in seeking to advance the cause of animal rights.

In 2003 the Anti-Defamation League accused Peta of trivialising the deaths of Jews in the second world war with a campaign that compared the meat industry to the Holocaust.
Colleen O'Brien, a spokeswoman for Peta, said in a statement that her organisation would regroup as a result of the dismissal of "this historic first case" on behalf of orcas.

"Today's decision does not change the fact that the orcas who once lived naturally wild and free are today kept as slaves by SeaWorld," O'Brien said.

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