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Animal rights group's suit to allege Sea World is keeping orcas in slavery

Orca at Sea World in Orlando, Fla.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals plans Wednesday to sue Sea World for allegedly violating the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution -- which bans slavery -- by keeping orcas at parks in San Diego and Orlando, Fla., organization officials said Tuesday.

The lawsuit, set to be filed in San Diego federal court, is considered the first of its kind and, if successful, would represent a large enhancement of the animal-rights movement. Part of the lawsuit asserts that it is illegal to artificially inseminate the females and then take away their babies.

Sea World officials dismissed the lawsuit as a publicity stunt. PETA routinely pickets the park on Mission Bay.

The lawsuit seeks the release of three orcas (also called killer whales) from San Diego and two at Orlando. "All five of these orcas were violently seized from the ocean and taken from their families as babies," said PETA President Ingred Newkirk.

PETA officials note that the 13th Amendment prohibits slavery but does appear to limit the ban only to human beings. "Slavery is slavery," said PETA general counsel Jeffrey Kerr.

Kasatka, Corky and Ulises are at Sea World San Diego, Tilikum and Katina at Orlando. Tilikum, a six-ton male, grabbed a trainer in February 2010 and dragged her to the bottom, where she drowned.

In a statement, Sea World said that extending constitutional rights to killer whales "is baseless and in many ways offensive" and that "there is no higher priority than the welfare of the animals entrusted to our care."

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--Tony Perry in San Diego

Photo: Orca at Sea World in Orlando, Fla. Credit: Phelan Ebenhack / Associated Press

 
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