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Federal Judge Tosses Out Whale Slavery Lawsuit

An orca whale at SeaWorld in July 2011.

Photo by Cindy Schultz / Flickr

Above: An orca whale at SeaWorld in July 2011.

A judge today threw out a federal lawsuit alleging five performing killer whales at SeaWorld parks in San Diego and Florida are being held as slaves in violation of the 13th Amendment.

PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, filed the lawsuit last October, seeking the orcas' immediate release from captivity on grounds that the 13th Amendment banning slavery should apply to animals.

Both sides presented their case before U.S. District Judge Jeffrey Miller on Monday. During an hour of arguments and questioning, the judge pointed out that the 13th Amendment was intended to apply to humans held in slavery.

The lawsuit -- the first to contend that an animal is entitled to protection under the 13th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution-named five orcas as plaintiffs, three based in San Diego and two in Orlando, Fla.

PETA spokesman David Perle said the court action was the first step toward "the inevitable day when all animals will be free from enslavement for human amusement. Today's decision does not change the fact that the orcas who once lived naturally wild and free, are today kept as slaves by SeaWorld."

He said the organization would "re-group" and determine how to continue working toward the legal protection of animals.

Jeff Kerr, an attorney for PETA, said the lawsuit applied only to orcas at SeaWorld and had nothing to do with household pets and other animals.

An attorney for SeaWorld, Theodore Shaw, said courts do not allow animals the legal right to sue when asking Miller to throw out the case.

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