California suit is third against SeaWorld over killer whale treatment

Reuters News
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Posted: Apr 14, 2015 5:07 PM

By Sharon Bernstein

(Reuters) - Opponents of killer whale shows at SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment have filed a third lawsuit in as many weeks against the company, saying ticket holders were defrauded by claims that the animals are healthy and well-treated.

The lawsuit was filed on Monday in San Francisco Superior Court on behalf of two local residents who bought tickets to the company's park in San Diego.

The three rapid-fire suits, filed as class actions in California and Florida, mark the latest fallout following the 2013 documentary "Blackfish" that was critical of SeaWorld's practice of keeping the killer whales in captivity and using them for entertainment.

"The suit is baseless, filled with inaccuracies, and SeaWorld intends to defend itself against these inaccurate claims," SeaWorld spokesman Fred Jacobs said.

The lawsuit stated, "SeaWorld's statements regarding the care and health of their captive orcas are false and misleading." It alleges that orcas, the black-and-white marine mammals also called killer whales, live shorter lives in captivity than in the wild.

It says that male orcas at SeaWorld parks suffer from dorsal fin collapse at a higher rate than those in the wild and that the company separates highly social and tightly knit orca families, causing distress and maladaptive behaviors.

The three lawsuits, filed by different lawyers on behalf of different clients, come as SeaWorld launches an advertising campaign stating it treats animals well and provides needed rescue programs for injured and stranded marine creatures.

Negative publicity has hurt the company, which operates SeaWorld Parks in California, Florida and Texas as well as other attractions.

The company announced last year that its chief executive, Jim Atchison, would step down. The company said it would cut jobs in an effort to save $50 million by the end of 2015.

SeaWorld has defended itself, saying the story depicted in "Blackfish" of the killing of a trainer at the company's Orlando park by a captive orca was full of lies.

On Tuesday, it issued the same statement in response to Monday's lawsuit as it did to a similar action filed in federal court in Florida last week, calling the plaintiffs "animal rights extremists." The other suit was filed in federal court in San Diego on March 25.

(Sharon Bernstein reported from Sacramento, Calif.)