SeaWorld reaches $65 million settlement in ‘Blackfish’ lawsuit

SeaWorld reaches $65 million settlement in ‘Blackfish’ lawsuit
SeaWorld San Diego unveils its new Orca Encounter to the public. SeaWorld Entertainment has 12 theme parks around the country.
NELVIN C. CEPEDA/SAN DIEGO UNION-TRIBUNE/TNS

BY GABRIELLE RUSSON
ORLANDO SENTINEL/TNS

SeaWorld has reached a $65 million settlement agreement to end a 2014 class-action civil lawsuit that accuses the company of misleading investors over the damage from the “Blackfish” documentary.

The Orlando-based company revealed the settlement in a new SEC filing Tuesday.

In the filing, SeaWorld said it does not admit wrongdoing in the settlement that must still be approved by the courts.

The “Blackfish” documentary gave a damning portrayal of keeping whales in captivity and told the story of Dawn Brancheau, the animal trainer who was killed in 2010 by the orca Tillikum.

In the 2014 lawsuit filed in California, a group of investors accused SeaWorld executives of ignoring and denying the film’s backlash.

Internal emails released in the court case showed SeaWorld executives complained about “Blackfish” hurting business in late 2013 or early 2014 — months before the company admitted in August 2014 the movie hurt attendance, according to previously released court records.

SeaWorld also was under investigation by the federal government for similar allegations.

In 2018, the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission fined SeaWorld $4 million and its former CEO James Atchison $1 million to settle fraud charges for misleading investors.

SeaWorld Entertainment is based in Orlando and runs 12 theme parks across the country.

The company has rebounded in the last two years as it aggressively added new rides, cut expenses and changed how animals are used in its shows.

SeaWorld recently said it will stop letting trainers ride on the noses and backs of dolphins.

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