SeaWorld agrees to pay $65M lawsuit settlement

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SAN DIEGO -- SeaWorld Entertainment announced Tuesday that it will pay $65 million to settle a class-action lawsuit alleging the company's owners lied to investors regarding the effect a documentary on killer whale captivity had on declining park attendance.

A Securities and Exchange Commission filing noted the settlement in the case of Baker v SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., which alleged that SeaWorld officials stated that a 2013 documentary titled "Blackfish" had no impact on park attendance.

The documentary chronicles the methods of capturing killer whales and the dangers whale captivity poses to humans and animals alike.

Company-wide attendance declined in 2013 and 2014, and the company stated in 2014 earnings releases that attendance was down due to factors other than "Blackfish," including "a late start to summer for some schools in the company's key source markets, new attraction offerings at competitor destination parks, and a delay in the opening of one of the company's new attractions."

The earning releases also referenced "demand pressures related to recent media attention surrounding proposed legislation in the state of California," possibly citing proposed laws at the time regarding orca protection regulations.

The settlement is pending approval in federal court and "does not include or constitute an admission, concession, or finding of any fault, liability, or wrongdoing by the company or any defendant," according to Tuesday's filing.

In 2018, SeaWorld paid $5 million to settle similar fraud allegations brought on by the SEC regarding the documentary's effect on attendance.

The SEC said at the time that SeaWorld and former CEO James Atchison "made untrue and misleading statements or omissions in SEC filings, earnings releases, and calls, and other statements to the press regarding `Blackfish's' impact on the company's reputation and business," which caused SeaWorld's stock price to fall, "causing significant losses to shareholders."

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