Famous Los Angeles turtle-racing bar hit by animal rights protests

Twice a month, Brennan’s Pub in Los Angeles attracts enormous crowds of punters, who gather in an amphitheater-style circle in the outdoor area to watch a peculiar sport: turtle-racing.

The bar, located in between Venice and Marina Del Rey, has been hosting the events since 1975, describing the amphibious spectacle as “the sport of kings”. The “athletes” are kept in a terrarium connected to the venue, and brought out for the shows.

During the races, a number of turtles are placed at the center of a circle, formed by crowds that are often six or seven rows deep. When the contest begins, the first turtle to crawl out of the circle is the winner. “Bets” can be placed on individual animals for one dollar, with tickets put into a raffle and drawn out of the winning turtle’s pot.

Animal rights activists say that the events are inhumane and exploitative, and that the hundreds of drunken punters screaming and cheering at the animals causes them clear distress.

On Thursday 21 March, In Defense of Animals (IDA), along with members of the Los Angeles Animal Defense League (LAADL) and Los Angeles For Animals (LAFA) staged a protest outside the bar, with signs and a megaphone, educating those who arrived for the races. Organizers said that around 30 people showed up for the demonstration between 6.30pm and 8.30pm.

Animal rights protesters outside Brennan’s Pub in Los Angeles

(Los Angeles Animal Defense League)

“Brennan’s has been exploiting turtles for almost 50 years. And as animal rights activists, we believe that animals are not ours to exploit. They are not entertainment,” an LAADL organizer, who did not wish to be named, told The Independent.

“Turtles are sentient beings. They don’t want to be exposed to stress and all these drunk people, and very loud noises. Just imagine your dog or cat being in their place. It’s very inhumane, and we’re demanding they stay away from exploiting animals for entertainment and for profit.”

Correspondence between IDA and Brennan’s has reportedly been ongoing since September. The LAADL claims that Brennan’s “stopped responding,” and is dismissive of activists’ concerns.

“They don’t care – I mean they’re still hosting it tonight,” the organizer told The Independent.

A spokesperson for Brennan’s denied the claims, saying that, on the contrary, the bar’s current owners consulted with local turtle experts and have invested heavily in the animals’ well being.

Brennan’s Pub says the turtles are well looked after and are not required to race if they don’t wish to

(Brennan’s Pub/ @turtleraces/ Instagram)

“When we purchased Brennan’s Pub seven years ago, we found the long-term resident turtles were living in an inadequate habitat. They were not well cared for, and some were in poor health,” the spokesman told The Independent.

“We consulted with some of the region’s leading turtle experts, and spent a lot of time and quite a bit of money building them a new habitat with room to swim, sunbathe, and live the good life.

“This project was not easy, but we did it with joy in keeping with our decades-long commitment to centering vegan menu options, donating to animal welfare organizations, and similar efforts to promote the well-being of our non-human neighbors on Earth .”

Brennan’s says that a certified veterinary technician has also been employed to oversee the care of the turtles and that they are closely monitored even during “non-race” weeks. If the turtles are unwilling to race, they are not required to do so.

“On race nights, our turtles are out of their habitat very briefly, and never for more than about ten minutes,” the spokesperson added. “None of them are required to race, as sometimes they prefer to nap or socialize while the others compete.”

Security personnel outside Brennan’s Pub in Los Angeles

(Los Angeles Animal Defense League (LAADL))

All money collected from the “bets” goes directly to local charities, some of which work with members of the Los Angeles unhoused community. Brennan’s says that as much as $30,000 is made through Turtle Races per year.

Despite these assurances, activists are not convinced. “If someone keeps you in a tiny basement, gives you food and all that stuff, but you can’t go anywhere and you’re being exploited. Would you like that?” the anonymous organizer said.

“That’s a question I always ask people just because you know, they feed the turtles and keep them in space doesn’t mean that the turtles want to be here.

Imagine all these people, all these humans that are much taller than you just shouting at you, all the loud music – it’s terrible. It’s a very scary environment for them. They are tiny.

“They did not consent to be here. They’re not athletes.”

Back To Top