The trials and tribulations at SeaWorld have never really stopped after the release of scathing 2013 documentary Blackfish. That film, by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, laid out a series of stunning accusations and hushed-up incidents involving the park’s most famous attractions, the orca whales, which led to an immediate nosedive in park attendance. Now, SeaWorld is being made to pay $65 million in a class-action lawsuit related to the film … not to animal rights activists, but to its own investors.
The lawsuit, which was filed way back in 2014, accused SeaWorld of misleading its investors in terms of how bad the fallout surrounding Blackfish had actually been, in terms of the park’s revenues. And yeesh, it really was a startling drop-off: quarterly income was down a whopping 84% year-to-year in the quarter following the much-publicized release of Blackfish.
A trial had been scheduled to finally begin next month, but the park’s agreement to settle the suit will instead mean it will simply pay $65 million, in the form of $45.5 million in insurance proceeds and $19.5 million in cash. As is typical in these matters, the agreement to pay the settlement “does not include or constitute an admission, concession, or finding of any fault, liability or wrongdoing by the company or any defendant.” You know, because organizations like SeaWorld sometimes just agree to give away $65 million for no reason.
Blackfish revolved around the captive life of the orca whale Tilikum, who was connected in the deaths of three humans—something the documentary attributed to psychological damage suffered by a powerful animal that was never meant to live in captivity. The film depicted the whales’ abuse at the hands of their trainers, and the way it affected the creatures both mentally and physically. Tilikum died in 2017 at SeaWorld, via bacterial infection; a common cause of death in captive whales and dolphins.
As for SeaWorld’s ongoing efforts to change its appearance, the park is still making new concessions. Just last week, in fact, it announced that trainers will no longer ride dolphins during performances, which animal rights activists had contended was potentially harmful to the animals.