The animal rights group PETA filed their official complaint against SeaWorld Inc. early Wednesday morning for allegedly violating the thirteenth amendment rights of orca whales.
The official complaint submitted to the US District Court for Southern California lists five SeaWorld orcas as collective plaintiffs in the case, according to the complaint. Three of those whales live in the San Diego SeaWorld park. The other two live in the Orlando location.
"The Thirteenth Amendment prohibits slavery, and these orcas are, by definition, slaves," said PETA President Ingrid E. Newkirk in a statement.
PETA alleges that the two SeaWorld locations restrained and kept the whales in “constant involuntary physical confinement,” with no means to escape. The complaint also accuses SeaWorld of depriving the whales of “their ability to live in a manner of their choosing,” and for “intentionally subjugating” the whales’ “wills, desires, and/or natural drives and needs of [SeaWorld Inc.’s] own will and whims.”
A spokesperson for SeaWorld Inc. stated that the claims were “baseless and offensive.” The statement added that any performances are intended to educate the public and promote conservation of marine animals.
"PETA has once again showed that it prefers publicity stunts to the hard work of caring for, rescuing and helping animals," the statement said.
PETA replied, saying "The merits of this case are strong. The existence of slavery does not depend upon the species of the slave."
Under current law, animals are still considered property, according to the Associated Press.
"The constitution applies to persons," said law professor at the Thomas Jefferson School of Law (TJSL) Michael Martindale. "PETA does not have legal standing to claim constitutional rights of animals. This case is likely to get dismissed early on."
Martindale and TJSL Law Professor David Steinberg agreed that the lawsuit was probably filed in order to make a statement.
"My own feeling is that the court system is poorly equipped for people who want to make a statement," said Steinberg, who has written articles on constitutional law.
"If everyone decided to use the legal process to further their own political or advocacy objectives," he added, "Then we would have a lot of criminals on the streets because we would never have time for criminal cases."
Should the PETA case against SeaWorld succeed, it could potentially bring an influx of cases to zoological institutions housing animals.
Public relations director for the San Diego Zoo Christina Simmons said such a case would cause concern for the preservation of animals.
“We would be concerned with anything that would prevent us with our work to conserve species,” said Christina Simmons, the San Diego zoo public relations director.
Simmons also said PETA could have a different agenda.
“We have to look to the motives of the organization,” she said.
The San Diego Zoo participates in a number of conservation efforts and animal preservation organizations, and Simmons said the zoo maintains the animals in the best situation possible.
“There’s a long list of species that would no longer be around if they hadn’t been in zoological organizations,” she said.