Five killer whales are suing SeaWorld. Yes, you read that correctly: killer whales are taking a big American theme park company to court. Peta (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) filed the lawsuit on behalf of the orcas this week, citing the creatures’ right to freedom under the US constitution.
Peta is asking a judge to free the “enslaved" orcas from the San Diego and Orlando SeaWorlds, where they live in tanks and perform complex routines for the paying crowds.
All five orcas were taken from the wild to perform at the popular water park. Peta names the five orca plaintiffs as Tilikum and Katina, at SeaWorld Orlando; and Kasatka, Corky, and Ulises, at SeaWorld San Diego. Tilikum is no stranger to the law, having drowned his trainer in 2010 and killed two other people in the 1990s.
SeaWorld’s attorney Theodore Shaw called the lawsuit a waste of the court’s time and resources: “With all due respect... neither orcas nor any other animal were included in the ‘We the people’... when the Constitution was adopted.” SeaWorld has said that if whales are constitutionally protected, then a similar rationale could be applied to police dogs, guide dogs and zoo animals.
The district attorney overseeing the case, Judge Jeffrey Miller, appears reluctant to accept the orcas' standing. And even though it's unlikely that SeaWorld will be made to release the captive whales, the suit is an important reminder that these magnificent creatures deserve strict legal protections. It's an historic day when whales end up court.