Theme Parks

SeaWorld sued for its treatment of killer whales

Tillikum, a killer whale at SeaWorld amusement park, performs during the show in this 2009 file photo.

Tillikum, a killer whale at SeaWorld amusement park, performs during the show in this 2009 file photo.  (Reuters)

SeaWorld is being accused of abusing its killer whales, or orcas, while raking in hundreds of millions of dollars.

According to a lawsuit filed against the theme park corporation on May 7 in the United States District Court Southern District of California, plaintiffs Valerie Simo, Elaine Browne and Joyce Kuhl say they never would have paid for park or show tickets had they known about how the whale and sea mammal were treated. 

Orca shows at Shamu Stadium have long been the top attraction at SeaWorld.  The suit charges that SeaWorld willfully deceived consumers about the mistreatment of the animals and poor health and safety practices at the park yet pushed to fill seats.

“This illusion masks the ugly truth about the unhealthy and despairing lives of these whales. This is a truth that, if known to the purchasing public at the time families make the decision to visit SeaWorld, buy a membership, or pay for an ‘exclusive park experience,’ would lead them to seek entertainment elsewhere,” according to the suit.

Charges of inhumane treatment include keeping the whale hidden from public view “in a confined space, the forced separation of young whales from their mothers, the unnatural mixing of whales that do not have the same culture in small spaces, the forced breeding and inbreeding of young female whales, the routine use of pharmaceutical products to unnaturally drug the orcas, the psychological manipulation and at times food deprivation to which they are subjected, the deep rake marks on their bodies that result from incompatibility and cramped conditions, and many other life-shortening and painful experiences from which they have no escape.”

The suit also alleges that the park hid the potential dangers faced by SeaaWorld trainers, citing the death of Dawn Brancheau—the main subject of 2013’s expose documentary "Blackfish"—as evidence.

The suit points to several corporate sponsors, like Southwest Airlines and Taco Bell, cutting ties with SeaWorld as further evidence of the park’s wrongdoing.

SeaWorld, which has been working to counter depictions made in “Blackfish” that its animals are mistreated.  The park launched a campaign called “Ask SeaWorld” to try and dispel myths about its practices and has pledged $10 million on orca research and expansion of its whale environments at parks.

The latest suit is one in a series of similar cases filed by those who have visited SeaWorld parks in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando. Many of the plaintiffs, including Simo, Browne, and Joyce Kuhl, are represented by attorneys affiliated with the same law firm, Hagens Berman.