PETA Sues SeaWorld Over Alleged "Whale Slavery"

​PETA, everyone's favorite group of totally rational animal activists, has launched a new legal attack against SeaWorld this morning, accusing parks in Orlando and California of mistreating five killer whales. Which, actually, OK! There are lots of reasonable arguments against keeping orcas in captivity.

PETA's argument, however, is that the killer whales are actually "slaves" whose rights are being violated under the 13th Amendment. Counterpoint: Whales are not people.

PETA's lawsuit, which they will file in California federal court later this morning, argues that the 13th Amendment -- you know, the one that abolished slavery -- "does not specify that only humans can be victims," the AP reports.

Here's what John Kerr, PETA's legal counsel, has to say about the ... unique argument.

"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."
SeaWorld, meanwhile, is left in the odd position of trying to prove in court that orcas are not people.

"(This suit) is baseless and in many ways offensive," the company says in a statement. "There is no higher priority than the welfare of the animals in our care."

It's not as though SeaWorld is the easiest entity to sympathize with here.

One of the whales named -- as plaintiffs! -- in the PETA suit is Tillikum. You might remember him from last year, when he dragged a trainer underwater during a show and drowned her; despite evidence the whale had contributed to two other deaths, SeaWorld keeps trotting him out for shows.

Today's lawsuit, like most PETA activities, is geared more toward pissing people off and sparking arguments than actually winning in court.

Even with more law schools open to the possibility of expanding animals' legal rights, a federal court isn't going to hear a case arguing that whales have Constitutional rights, the AP writes.

"A court would not be predisposed to opening up that box with fully unknown consequences," says Michigan State law professor David Favre.

On the upside, PETA has gone a whole morning without making fun of shark attack victims or upsetting Holocaust survivors. So there's that.

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Tim Elfrink is a former investigative reporter and managing editor for Miami New Times. He has won the George Polk Award and was a finalist for the Goldsmith Prize for Investigative Reporting.
Contact: Tim Elfrink