That’s what People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) charges in its latest lawsuit:

Can killer whales sue SeaWorld for enslavement? A lawsuit filed Wednesday by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other “next friends” of five SeaWorld killer whales takes that novel legal approach.

The 20-page complaint asks the U.S. District Court in Southern California to declare that the five whales — Tilikum, Katina, Corky, Kasatka, and Ulises — are being held in slavery or involuntary servitude in violation of the 13th Amendment.

A PETA statement said the lawsuit is the first of its kind in contending that constitutional protections against slavery are not limited to humans.

“Plaintiffs were forcibly taken from their families and natural habitats, are held captive at SeaWorld San Diego and SeaWorld Orlando, denied everything that is natural to them, subjected to artificial insemination or sperm collection to breed performers for defendants’ shows, and forced to perform, all for defendants’ profit,” the lawsuit says, arguing that those conditions amount to enslavement and/or forced servitude.

You can read more about PETA’s position on the organization’s web site:

Orcas are intelligent animals who, in the wild, work cooperatively, form complex relationships, communicate using distinct dialects, and swim up to 100 miles every day. At SeaWorld, they are forced to swim in circles in small, barren concrete tanks. Deprived of the opportunity to make conscious choices and to practice their cultural vocal, social, and foraging traditions, they are compelled to perform meaningless tricks for a reward of dead fish.

Our understanding of animals grows every day. Animals are no longer regarded as “things” to dominate, but as breathing, feeling beings with families, dialects, intellect, and emotions. Just as we look back with shame at a time when we enslaved other humans and viewed some people as property less deserving of protection and consideration, we will look back on our treatment of these animals with shame. The 13th Amendment exists to abolish slavery in all its forms — and this lawsuit is the next step.

PETA is certainly taking a novel approach, though I’m not sure the lawsuit has a legal future:

State and federal courts have traditionally understood laws dealing with animal ownership and cruelty as applying only to human actions, meaning the animals themselves could neither be prosecuted nor act as plaintiffs or defendants. That would include litigation and legislation involving hunting and breeding of animals and plants, as well as zoo and circus displays.

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