The Slavery of Animals

Travis Brown

            People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) is bringing suit on behalf of five orca whale plaintiffs against SeaWorld  this week in the United States District Court located in San Diego, California.  The suit, acknowledged to be unlikely to succeed, seeks to expand the boundaries of current animal rights. 

The basis of the claim is a rather progressive one.  PETA is asking the District Court to grant constitutional protection to the whales predicated upon the Thirteenth Amendment ban on slavery.  The group maintains that the Amendment does not solely apply to humans, and that the whales being kept within the parks and used solely for breeding and human entertainment is tantamount to such unconstitutional servitude.  Jeffrey Kerr, the general counsel for PETA stated that, “Slavery is slavery, and it does not depend on the species of the slave any more than it depends on gender, race, or religion.”

SeaWorld flatly denies any allegations of such slavery and stated that, “There is no higher priority than the welfare of the animals entrusted to [SeaWorld’s] care and no facility sets higher standards in husbandry, veterinary care and enrichment.” 

The hotly contested issue has attracted the attention of numerous law school professors who specialize in animal rights.  Rutgers University law professor Gary Francione was cited for his proposition that animals should no longer be regarded merely as property and should not only be provided the limited rights set forth in the Endangered Species Act, Animal Welfare Act and, in this case, the Marine Mammals Protection Act.  These orcas, as well as other marine park animals, have been studied and Naomi Rose, a marine mammal biologist for the Humane Society, has determined that they have the “cognitive sophistication of a 3-to-4-year-old human child[].”  As such, being subjected to the rote conditions of captivation subjects the animals to stress.

Though the likelihood of success has already been questioned, this case represents forward progression for animal rights.  Public recognition of animal rights, or the lack thereof, will prove to be integral to courts choosing to entertain such claims as well as their likelihood of rendering a disposition favorable to the animals.

3 Responses

  1. I have a petition on to have the status of pets changed from property etc., please sign it! Whether humans will ever do right by other animals and acknowledge their true status is unlikely because that would mean we could not kill them for their fur, skin, flesh, etc. all contrary to big business!

  2. What a great step in the right direction toward changing the conversation about animals. Thanks for posting.

  3. After what has recently happened in my state of Ohio where 49 innocent animals were gunned down because their owner released them from their cages, destroyed their shabby dwellings, and then killed himself. And next his wife tried to take the six surviving animals back to the run-down farm, when they are under the excellent care of the Columbus Zoo, fortunately she failed. Whatever can be done to elevate the discussion on animals having rights, I am all for it. Animals are NOT property, they are living creatures, that deserve to be protected and treated humanely.

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