Free Willy - his rights under the US constitution are being violated

PETA says that park has violated provision banning slavery in the United States

A A A

In a wild legal leap, PETA, the group that campaigns against cruelty to animals, is asking a judge to order the release of five orca whales owned by SeaWorld on the grounds that they are being enslaved in violation of the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution.

The lawsuit, which was to be filed with the US District Court in San Diego yesterday, is the most audacious attempt by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals to shame SeaWorld into surrendering its cast of whales – Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka and Ulises – which perform several times daily at theme parks in Florida and California.

It is a bold step because it implies that the 13th Amendment, which was adopted to outlaw human slavery in the United States after the Civil War, should be extended also to animals, a notion that some might find insulting. However, the PETA legal team, headed by Jeff Kerr, said it spent 18 months preparing the suit. There is nothing in the Amendment, the group notes, that explicitly limits its scope to humans.

"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," said Mr Kerr. "The males have their sperm collected, the females are artificially inseminated and forced to bear young which are sometimes shipped away."

SeaWorld insists that by bringing large numbers of tourists to their facilities it is raising public awareness of the ocean habitat and of the lives of whales. Indeed under US laws, permits for performing animal shows are only extended where there is a substantial conservation element involved.

The company suffered its worst public relations setback early last year when Tilikum, a five-tonne male orca captured off the coast of Iceland 30 years ago, attacked a female trainer and dragged her under water in one of the SeaWorld pools until she drowned. The tragedy came at the end of a performance with the audience watching.

Calling the lawsuit baseless and "in many ways offensive", SeaWorld said in a statement that it was "among the world's most respected zoological institutions". It added: "There is no higher priority than the welfare of the animals entrusted to our care and no facility sets higher standards in husbandry, veterinary care and enrichment."

The animal rights group has over the years launched a series of attention-grabbing stunts, notably to shame the purveyors and wearers of fur coats as well as the meat industry. It is perfectly capable of taking steps that might seem quixotic but which will at the very least garner wide public attention.

That said, a debate about possibly extending animals rights that would mean them becoming more than just the property of humans has already begun in some law departments in the US. The chances of the court admitting the suit might be slim, however. Law professor David Favre, of Michigan State University, who has explored creating a legal category called "living property" for some animals, is among the sceptics.

"The court will most likely not even get to the merits of the case, and find that the plaintiffs do not have standing to file the lawsuit at all," he said. "I also think a court would not be predisposed to open up that box with fully unknown consequences."

News
Jeremy Paxman has admitted he is a 'one-nation Tory' and complained that Newsnight is made by idealistic '13-year-olds' who foolishly think they can 'change the world'.
peopleThe idea has been greeted enthusiastically by the party's MPs
News
Michael Buerk in the I'm A Celebrity jungle 2014
people
Voices
File: David Cameron offers a toast during a State Dinner in his honour March 14, 2012
voicesAnd nobody from Ukip said babies born to migrants should be classed as migrants, says Nigel Farage
Arts and Entertainment
Avatar grossed $2.8bn at the box office after its release in 2009
filmJames Cameron is excited
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Stik on the crane as he completed the mural
art
News
Happy in his hat: Pharrell Williams
people
Arts and Entertainment
Stella Gibson is getting closer to catching her killer
tvReview: It's gripping edge-of-the-seat drama, so a curveball can be forgiven at such a late stage
News
Brazilian football legend Pele pictured in 2011
peopleFans had feared the worst when it was announced the Brazil legand was in a 'special care' unit
News
i100(More than you think)
Sport
Brendan Rodgers seems more stressed than ever before as Liverpool manager
FOOTBALLI like Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
News
The Magna Carta
archaeologyContemporary account of historic signing discovered
News
Phyllis Dorothy James on stage during a reading of her book 'Death Comes to Pemberley' last year
peopleJohn Walsh pays tribute to PD James, who died today
Sport
Benjamin Stambouli celebrates his goal for Tottenham last night
FOOTBALL
Life and Style
Dishing it out: the head chef in ‘Ratatouille’
food + drinkShould UK restaurants follow suit?
News
peopleExclusive: Maryum and Hana Ali share their stories of the family man behind the boxing gloves
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML, CSS, SQL

£39000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Senior PHP Developer - OOP, Javascript, HTML,...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial / Residential Property - Surrey

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: SURREY MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Programme - Online Location Services Business

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: What do you want to do with your career? Do yo...

Recruitment Genius: Senior QC Scientist

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This company is a leading expert in immunoassa...

Day In a Page

Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: ‘We give them hope. They come to us when no one else can help’

Christmas Appeal

Meet the charity giving homeless veterans hope – and who they turn to when no one else can help
Should doctors and patients learn to plan humane, happier endings rather than trying to prolong life?

Is it always right to try to prolong life?

Most of us would prefer to die in our own beds, with our families beside us. But, as a GP, Margaret McCartney sees too many end their days in a medicalised battle
Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night - is that what it takes for women to get to the top?

What does it take for women to get to the top?

Thomas Cook's outgoing boss Harriet Green got by on four hours sleep a night and told women they had to do more if they wanted to get on
Christmas jumper craze: Inside the UK factory behind this year's multicultural must-have

Knitting pretty: British Christmas Jumpers

Simmy Richman visits Jack Masters, the company behind this year's multicultural must-have
French chefs have launched a campaign to end violence in kitchens - should British restaurants follow suit?

French chefs campaign against bullying

A group of top chefs signed a manifesto against violence in kitchens following the sacking of a chef at a Paris restaurant for scalding his kitchen assistant with a white-hot spoon
Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour War and Peace on New Year's Day as Controller warns of cuts

Just what you need on a New Year hangover...

Radio 4 to broadcast 10-hour adaptation of War and Peace on first day of 2015
Cuba set to stage its first US musical in 50 years

Cuba to stage first US musical in 50 years

Claire Allfree finds out if the new production of Rent will hit the right note in Havana
Christmas 2014: 10 best educational toys

Learn and play: 10 best educational toys

Of course you want them to have fun, but even better if they can learn at the same time
Paul Scholes column: I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season

Paul Scholes column

I like Brendan Rodgers as a manager but Liverpool seem to be going backwards not forwards this season
Lewis Moody column: Stuart Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

Lewis Moody: Lancaster has made all the right calls – now England must deliver

So what must the red-rose do differently? They have to take the points on offer 
Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

Cameron, Miliband and Clegg join forces for Homeless Veterans campaign

It's in all our interests to look after servicemen and women who fall on hard times, say party leaders
Millionaire Sol Campbell wades into wealthy backlash against Labour's mansion tax

Sol Campbell cries foul at Labour's mansion tax

The former England defender joins Myleene Klass, Griff Rhys Jones and Melvyn Bragg in criticising proposals
Nicolas Sarkozy returns: The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?

Sarkozy returns

The ex-President is preparing to fight for the leadership of France's main opposition party – but will he win big enough?
Is the criticism of Ed Miliband a coded form of anti-Semitism?

Is the criticism of Miliband anti-Semitic?

Attacks on the Labour leader have coalesced around a sense that he is different, weird, a man apart. But is the criticism more sinister?
Ouija boards are the must-have gift this Christmas, fuelled by a schlock horror film

Ouija boards are the must-have festive gift

Simon Usborne explores the appeal - and mysteries - of a century-old parlour game