SeaWorld is in trouble again. The theme park chain is the subject of a federal criminal investigation after shareholders filed a lawsuit claiming that the company purposely deceived investors regarding the impact of the “Blackfish” documentary which pointed out the dangers of orca captivity.
“Blackfish” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival and was acquired by CNN Films and Magnolia Pictures and scheduled for a theatrical release in the months leading up to SeaWorld’s initial public offering in 2013. According to the lawsuit, SeaWorld failed to mention the film or any potential impact it may have on the company in the legal documents they submitted before going public.
“Instead, SeaWorld offered only a generalized reference to the fact that accidents or adverse publicity ‘may’ potentially harm SeaWorld’s reputation, attendance and business as some point in the future,” the lawsuit claimed.
Following the initial public offering, SeaWorld refused to acknowledge any impact on the company brought forth by “Blackfish.” Even after they announced their largest attendance decline ever at 13 percent, SeaWorld still refused to acknowledge the film’s impact.
In August of 2014, the company finally told investors that their declining numbers were a result of public sentiment. In January 2015, Joel Manby became the company’s CEO and shortly after, SeaWorld’s orca breeding program was ended.
Despite the change to SeaWorld’s strategy, according to the lawsuit, “the company took far too long to respond effectively to the challenge of ‘Blackfish’.”
A SeaWorld spokesman told The Washington Post investors have been alerted of the federal investigation and they are planning to fully cooperate.