Can Killer Whales Be Slaves?

You knew PETA was going to be involved in this somehow, didn't you? Yup — they're suing Sea World, claiming that the parks' orcas are actually slaves. And a judge has agreed to hear the case.

The AP reports that PETA has sued the park on behalf of five orcas (yes, they are officially named as plaintiffs in the suit). Says Jeffrey Kerr, the lawyer for the whales, "This case is on the next frontier of civil rights." He adds,

This is an historic day. 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.

I'll be the first to agree that orcas should not be kept at Sea World. They are big, smart, dangerous animals that have repeatedly killed people. They need more room and freedom than a park can possibly provide. They deserve to be in the ocean. But the fact that "they happen to not have been born human" is not a small matter. Describing PETA's efforts to help them as "the next frontier of civil rights" is an insult to human beings still fighting for their civil rights. And just in case you were wondering whether PETA thought about the larger implications of the word "slavery," let me assure you that they did — they claim that animals are suffering from the same kind of marginalization suffered by women and black people in the past.

Sorry PETA, no. Calling whales "slaves" is offensive to people whose ancestors were slaves, and to current victims of slavery and human trafficking worldwide. You can support animal rights without arguing that animals are essentially the same as women and people of color, and without claiming that giving animals the habitats they deserve is just as important as abolition.

Slavery protections for animals? Judge to decide [AP, via CBS]