US District Judge Jeffrey Miller called the San Diego hearing after Sea World asked the court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that names five orcas as plaintiffs.
PETA claims the captured whales are treated like slaves, forced to live in tanks and perform daily at Sea World parks in California and Florida.
Sea World’s lawyer, Theodore Shaw, said it defied common sense.
“With all due respect, the court does not have the authority to even consider this question,” Shaw said, adding later: “Neither orcas nor any other animal were included in the ‘We the people’ … when the Constitution was adopted,” he said.
Judge Miller said he would take the case under advisement and deliver his ruling at a later date.
The judge raised doubts a court can allow animals to be plaintiffs in a lawsuit, and he questioned how far the implications of a favorable ruling could reach, pointing out the military’s use of dolphins and scientists’ experiments on whales in the wild.
PETA lawyer Jeffry Kerr acknowledged PETA faces an uphill battle but he said he was hopeful after Monday’s hearing.
“This is an historic day,” Kerr said.
“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.