Diving into the Legal Depths with The Creature from the Black Lagoon

The Universal Classic Creature from the Black Lagoon starts as an archeological expedition, which evolved into hunting an endangered species in the Amazon for importation to a marine institute in the United States. It’s time to swim into the murky legal issues with Dr. Mark Williams’ goal to capture the Creature.

Importation of Endangered Species

The Creature was possibly the last of its kind from the Devonian Era. Fossilized remained were found of another “creature,” which was the genesis of the expedition into the Amazon. Upon first sighting the Creature, Dr. Mark Williams shot a speargun at the animal. Dr. Williams made clear his goal was to capture the Creature for his aquarium.

Dr. William’s objective to bring the Creature to the United States would violate the prohibition of importing animals that are either wild or endangered into the United States, or its territorial waters, or on the high seas. Safari Club Int’l v. Babbitt, No. 1993 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 21795, at *19-20 (W.D. Tex. Aug. 12, 1993), citing 50 C.F.R. § 10.12 and 16 U.S.C.S. § 1538(A)(1)(A), (B), and (C). Moreover, the Secretary of the Interior can regulate the wild animals that are “injurious to human beings” to be prohibited from being imported into the United States. 18 U.S.C.S. § 42(a)(1). Furthermore, it is unlawful to import any wildlife taken in violation of any State or foreign law. 16 U.S.C.S. § 3372(a)(2)(A).

Federal and State law could view the Creature as a dangerous wild animal, like an alligator or gorilla. Moreover, the Secretary of the Interior could find the Creature is “injurious to human beings,” since the Creature killed three people without provocation (which is very different than the situation in Frankenstein).

There is a strong argument that the Creature is an endangered species under the Endangered Species Act. A species is “endangered” if it is “in danger of extinction throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” 16 U.S. CODE § 1532(6). A species is “threatened” if it is “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range.” Id. § 1532(20); Conservation Force, Inc. v. Jewell, 733 F.3d 1200, 1202 (D.C. Cir. 2013). A species is considered “endangered” because of “natural or manmade factors affecting its continued existence.” 16 USCS § 1533(a)(1)(E).

The Creature appeared to live alone, with no evidence of any other living members of the species. The only evidence of another animal were fossilized remains, so unless the Creature reproduces asexually, it could be the last of its kind. The Rita expedition into the Creature’s range introduced Rotenone into the Black Lagoon and armed hunting parties with spearguns and rifles. As such, the Creature was under threat of extinction from the lack of the opportunity to reproduced and humans hunting the Creature.

Williams’ actions were to kill and then capture the Creature for profit. United States law would not permit the Creature to be brought into the United States. Moreover, Brazil also would have its own national interest to protect the Creature from being exported to the United States as a museum exhibit.

Duties as a Common Carrier

The Creature stalked Kay Lawrence during her solo swim in the Black Lagoon. As a passenger on the Rita, Captain Lucas owed Kay a duty to protect her from “from ill treatment from other passengers, intruders or employees.” White v. Norfolk & S. R. Co., 115 N.C. 631, 636-37, 20 S.E. 191, 192 (1894).

The Creature boarding the Rita would classify the Creature as an “intruder.” Captain Lucas owed all of the passengers onboard the Rita a duty to protect them from harm. Maintaining a watch for the Creature, with appropriate counter-measures, would have been reasonable to protect the passengers onboard Rita. Immediately leaving the Black Lagoon would have been a wise course of action.

Dr. Edwin Thompson was injured by the Creature and was hospitalized in a bunk below decks. The Creature was able to access the injured Thompson through an open porthole. Ensuring portholes were closed would have been an appropriate response to knowing there was an undiscovered lethal gill-man harassing the passengers onboard the Rita.

Just Leave Him Alone

The Creature was an endangered species from an era time forgot. Not entering the Creature’s habitat would be the best course of action, for the safety of both human beings and the Creature himself. This is best evidenced by Dr. Mark Williams, who behaved like someone who tried to ride a bear at a National Park. The best way to avoid the loss of life is to leave the bear alone. The same is true for Devonian Creatures in lagoons.