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SeaWorld to pay $65 million settlement to investors over impact of "Blackfish" doc

Former trainer blows whistle on SeaWorld
Former trainer blows whistle on SeaWorld 06:29

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. agreed to pay $65 million on Tuesday to settle a lawsuit related to the documentary "Blackfish." The theme park was accused of lying to investors about the impact the film had on its finances. 

The proposed settlement, which follows a years-long legal battle and still needs to be approved in court, requires SeaWorld to pay $65 million for alleged violations of the Securities Exchange Act of 1934, along with costs of administration and legal fees and expenses. It would pay $45.5 million using insurance proceeds and $19.5 million in cash. 

Under the terms of the settlement, filed Tuesday with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, SeaWorld did not admit to any "fault, liability, or wrongdoing." 

The 2013 documentary "Blackfish" highlighted the life in captivity of Tilikum, an orca that killed SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau during an Orlando show in 2010. The film accused the theme park of abusing its killer whales, and it led to a decline both in attendance and revenue that SeaWorld claimed were unrelated to the documentary's widespread popularity. 

Killer whale Tilikum appears during its performance in its show “Believe” at SeaWorld on March 30, 2011, in Orlando, Florida.
Killer whale Tilikum appears during its performance in its show "Believe" at SeaWorld on March 30, 2011, in Orlando, Florida. Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

The popularity of "Blackfish" made a huge impact on the future of orcas at SeaWorld parks. After its release, several entertainers pulled out of planned performances and animal rights activists increased their demonstrations outside the parks.

The last orca to be born in captivity at a SeaWorld park was born in 2017, just over a year after the park decided to stop breeding orcas following animal rights protests and declining ticket sales.

In 2018, SeaWorld and former CEO  James Atchison agreed to pay more than $5 million for misleading investors about the damage to its business from "Blackfish." 

Last week, Seaworld announced that trainers will no longer ride dolphins at its theme parks. The move was a win for animal rights activists, who campaigned for nearly a year to convince the company to prohibit the stunt.

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