SeaWorld is currently under investigation by the US Department of Justice (DOJ) for statements made in relation to the “Blackfish” documentary.
In order to avoid interfering with the criminal investigation, an on-going civil lawsuit has been paused. The class action lawsuit, filed by a group of SeaWorld shareholders began in 2014.
The group claim they were misled regarding the effect the documentary “Blackfish” was having on revenue and attendance. They have pointed to the timing of a substantial amount of personally held SeaWorld stock being sold by the CEO at the time, Jim Atchison, as a possible motivation for the deception.
The documentary revealed a darker side to SeaWorld and its’ treatment of killer whales, most notably Tilikum. “Blackfish” came about after filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite was inspired by an article written by Tim Zimmerman in response to the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau.
Once a wild orca in Icelandic waters, Tilikum had not always been captive. The wide spread media attention shed on the history of captive orcas and their treatment received considerable scrutiny after the release of the film.
The documentary is known to have significantly affected the general public’s perception of the treatment of animals in captivity and particularly of orcas used in live performance shows.
Despite various other reasons at first given by company executives in connection to the drop in attendance, a significant and consistent decline in SeaWorld’s stock price followed the July 2013 release of “Blackfish”.
The federal government is now investigating whether or not those comments broke the law.
The company is currently cooperating with the government’s investigation.