I said this was going to happen. Just a few weeks ago, I predicted that we would soon see sea mammals suing. And now just a few days later, five orca killer whales were plaintiffs in a San Diego Federal Court civil rights suit brought on their behalf by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.
The SeaWorld Five,Tilikum and Katina of Orlando and Kasatka, Corky and Ulises of San Diego, were represented by Jeffrey Kerr, a PETA, attorney. Kerr argued that the captive killer whales are de facto enslaved in their SeaWorld holding tank and forced to perform circus acts at the parks against their will.
“This is an historic day,” said Kerr. “For the first time in our nation’s history, a federal court heard arguments as to whether living, breathing, feeling beings have rights and can be enslaved simply because they happen to not have been born human. By any definition these orcas have been enslaved here.”
SeaWorld’s attorney Theodore Shaw argued otherwise, He thinks catch-and-release killer whales will be “hell unleashed.”
Which made me think that a revolving door for killer whales might be a problem in an election year, due to voter sensitivity about getting eaten by large oceanic predators.
Personally, I would not want a pod of killer whales on work-release in my ‘nabe. Especially the SeaWorld Five. Tilikum is six tons of bad news, involved in three (human) deaths. That is one killer whale.
But US District Judge Jeffrey Miller took a more constitutional view when he ruled not to Free Willy. “The only reasonable interpretation of the 13th Amendment’s plain language is that it applies to persons and not to non-persons such as orcas,” ruled the judge. “Both historic and contemporary sources reveal that the term ‘slavery’ and ‘involuntary servitude’ refer only to persons.”
So no civil rights for animals yet, but the PETA play is to make this the Dred Scott Decision for Planet of the Apes. I’d say social and technology trends are in their favor.
Will we feel differently about it when we can talk to the animals? There is a lot of interesting work being done on animal cognition and communication. I’m not predicting Charlie Rose interviewing chimp book authors next month. That’s still ways out. But we are better at talking to the animals and understanding what they are thinking. The big dividing line between animal and human is more nuanced than we had imagined.
Researchers, armed with new theories and new tools, are getting to the shared experience of sentience among so many creatures,
People like animals. People like to eat them. I don’t think they’ll taste so good when they start talking back.