SeaWorld, former CEO to pay $5 million fine to settle SEC fraud charge

SeaWorld and its former CEO have agreed to pay more than $5 million for misleading investors about the damage to its business from "Blackfish," a 2013 documentary that accused the theme park of mistreating its killer whales.

Starting in December of that year, the company and former CEO James Atchison made false and misleading statements about the impact of the film in regulatory filings, earnings releases and to the press, the Securities and Exchange Commission said Tuesday in a news release announcing the fraud settlement.  

SeaWorld eventually conceded that its declining attendance was partially caused by negative publicity from the film, hitting its stock price and causing losses for investors, the agency said.

The company is paying $4 million and Atchison more than $1 million to settle the charges without admitting or denying the allegations. SeaWorld's former vice president of communications also agreed to settle a fraud charge and pay about $100,000, according to the SEC.

SeaWorld said it was pleased to have resolved the matter.  

The company moved last year to start phasing out live shows involving orcas at its parks.