The picture on the left is American slaves working in fields. The picture on the right is an orca in a tank where hundreds of humans come to watch them each day. Both the slaves and the orca have been used for economic gain. Would you consider them the same? By that I mean would you consider the orca a slave just as you would the African American’s working in a field?
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) do and in October 2011 PETA filed a lawsuit against SeaWorld on behalf of five orcas. PETA believes that these five orcas, Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises, are kept in conditions that violate 13th Amendment of the American Constitution, which bans slavery.
David Crary and Julie Watson wrote an article, SeaWorld Accused By PETA Of Enslaving Orcas, that conveys that the courts will not rule in favor of PETA. The article states, “The chances of the suit succeeding are slim, according to legal experts not involved in the case; any judge who hews to the original intent of the authors of the amendment is unlikely to find that they wanted to protect animals.” After close examination of the article, it is evident that Crary and Watson believe the 13th Amendment does not apply to animals but only humans. This is made clear, especially after reading the last two sentences of the article which are about a visitor of Sea World who does not believe orcas have been enslaved. The visitor expressed their belief that orcas are better off in tanks than they would be in the wild. Crary and Watson make apparent their opposition to the case by stating that this lawsuit could actually be offensive to African Americans by comparing early American slavery to enslavement of orcas. Humans, clearly see themselves as superior to any other species in this world.
Their opinion on the case is kind of hard to extract since Crary and Watson do provide some comments from individuals who are in support of PETA’s case that explain how the orcas have been enslaved. For example, they do quote PETA’s general legal counsel Jeff Kerr when he said “By any definition, these orcas are slaves – kidnapped from their homes, kept confined, denied everything that’s natural to them and forced to perform tricks for SeaWorld’s profit. The males have their sperm collected, the females are artificially inseminated and forced to bear young which are sometimes shipped away.” However, the authors are not truly taking into account what PETA is actually saying. They’re just stating that PETA doesn’t have grounds for their argument because Orca’s do not apply to the 13th Amendment.
In another article, Are SeaWorld Orcas Illegal Slaves?, by Judy Molland, Judy makes clear her belief that SeaWorld holds orcas as slaves. Though she does state that it is unlikely that PETA will win the case, she does provide us with information to state why they should be seen as slaves. According to Molland, in the last twenty five years, twenty four orcas have died while at SeaWorld. She believes the reason that these orcas have died is because they are forced to live in tanks that are treated with chemicals while given an artificial diet. In addition, orcas are very intelligent creatures that have tight family bonds but when SeaWorld took them for their habitats and families, they created a stressful and depressed living space for them. In a different article, PETA confirms that not one of these orcas have died due to old age. An orca’s life expectancy is typically 50 to 60 years old but that last two orcas, Sumar and Kalina, were only 12 and 25.
Molland’s article also brings up a good point about zoos and domesticated animals. She suggests that we boycott those as well because she views them as slaves also.
On February 8, 2012 a federal judge dismissed the case and ruled that orcas did not have the same constitutional rights as humans. In Alex Dobuzinskis’s article in Thomson Reuters News & Insight it is obvious that the author found the case extremely disrespectful to people who were owned as slaves. At the end of the article, a quote from the judge is given. It stated that the goal of PETA “to protect the welfare of orcas is laudable,” but the 13th amendment was not the right way to do to it.
Some people may not consider the SeaWorld orcas slaves, however, I do. These orcas were taken from their natural environments and families and placed into a tank where they are forced to perform in front of audiences each day. They don’t choose to do this; they are forced to do it for SeaWorld’s economic gain. The 13th Amendment states “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction.” It does not say it only applies to humans. Maybe the judge was right to say that PETA should have gone about this in a different way, but legally I believe that orcas are and have been used as slaves at SeaWorld.
In addition, like Molland discussed, this makes me think about zoos and domestic animals. Both are confined to a space and do not have the ability to choose. Would this be considered slavery as well? Who are humans to decide whether an animal should be caged or not? Some may argue, like the tourist in Crary and Watson’s article, that the animals are better off than they would if they were in the wild. This may be true but maybe animals wouldn’t be harmed in the wild if humans didn’t act as if they own every piece the world. We as members of a global community need to be more cognizant of our ecosystem and treat every species with the same morals that we would expect from each other.