Uncertain Future for SeaWorld

Nicole Geraci

SeaWorld Killer Whale Show One WorldWhile controversy has long surrounded human-orca interaction, the recent release of the documentary “Blackfish” has sparked considerable outrage amongst its viewers.  The film captures the history of killer whales in captivity with its spotlight on Tilikum, an orca who was captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983 and transported to SeaWorld.  “Blackfish” also portrays the tragic 2010 incident of veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau who ultimately lost her life after being dragged underwater by Tilikum, the events of which were witnessed by a live audience.

In response to the trainer’s untimely death, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration imposed a $12,000 penalty (reduced from an original $75,000 fine) on SeaWorld.  The pending litigation involves the general duty clause of the OSHA which requires employers to provide “a place of employment which is free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm.”  The issue is whether SeaWorld has in fact violated this duty.  SeaWorld filed an appeal contending that it should not be required to eliminate all risk associated with an activity that is essential to the company’s work.  Labor officials have responded with safety requirements in which SeaWorld trainers would be ordered to work behind barriers or maintain safe distances between themselves and the whales, which according to SeaWorld, would undermine their shows.  Continue reading

Is PETA v. SeaWorld a Bad Idea?

Spencer Lo

 There is no question that, in the ordinary sense of the word, a great many non-human animals are slaves, forced to exist in extremely deleterious conditions to fulfill the wishes of their human masters. Most are untroubled by this fact—slavery over animals has been widely accepted in society for a very long time. Last October, in an effort to reverse this norm, PETA made a radical (some say outrageous) move. They filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld on behalf of five orcas, creatures who have been forced to live in highly confined, unnatural environments, to their detriment, all for the purpose of performing cheap tricks. Their decades-long captivity, according to PETA, violates the constitutional prohibition against slavery (aka the Thirteenth Amendment).

While it may be common sense that the orcas are slaves, from a legal standpoint, PETA is asserting a very radical claim. Is it too radical? PETA is essentially contending that the oracas are full legal persons entitled to constitutional rights. For the Nonhuman Rights Project (NhRP), an organization dedicated to changing the legal status of non-human animals from “things” to “persons,” the move is too soon; the lawsuit “is dangerously premature” and “will damage future animal rights law cases” if it is decided on the merits. NhRP has been allowed to appear as an amicus curiae in the case, and is seeking to have it decided on non-constitutional grounds, rather than on the merits of the Thirteenth Amendment claim. The question then is why: why is failure on the merits so bad or counterproductive from the viewpoint of animal rights advocacy? Although PETA is unlikely to prevail, how could it hurt to try?   Continue reading

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.”  Continue reading