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SeaWorld Under Federal Investigations over Blackfish Documentary

| Mark J. Palmer
Topics: Captivity Industry, SeaWorld

SeaWorld’s stock took another hit when the company revealed on Friday, June 23rd, that both the federal Department of Justice and Security and Exchange Commission are investigating the company and had subpoenaed records.  Value of SeaWorld shares dropped 6% on the following Monday.

The announcement revealed that the investigations are aimed at statements by SeaWorld leadership, especially in relation to the documentary “Blackfish.”  “Blackfish” focused on the inhumane conditions in which SeaWorld keeps captive orcas.  Several former trainers of orcas at SeaWorld provided commentary for the documentary, condemning SeaWorld’s keeping orcas in small tanks doing repetitive tricks for public performances.  

At first, the leaders of SeaWorld dismissed the impact of “Blackfish,” but as attendance at the parks declined and the controversy around “Blackfish” grew, SeaWorld’s leaders changed their tune – potentially having misled their own shareholders.

In fact, a group of SeaWorld shareholders are independently suing SeaWorld on that same issue.

Shareholders also dumped SeaWorld’s Chairman of the Board, David D'Alessandro, in a recent vote, before the investigation news was made public.  In part due to declines in share values, the vote was also seen as objecting to high levels of compensation bonuses for SeaWorld leadership.  The Board of Directors, however, after the vote, decided to keep D’Alessandro on at least until December 31st.

Earth Island’s International Marine Mammal Project is acting as a consultant in connection with a separate lawsuit against SeaWorld, contending that SeaWorld is making false claims to the public about their captive orcas.  The case is pending in federal court in Oakland, CA.