Filed on behalf of Joyce Cole Kuhl of Aiken County, SC, the 66-page suit accuses SeaWorld of Florida and sister entities of a “campaign of misinformation” to conceal orca mistreatment and poor conditions. She says she wouldn’t have bought a ticket had she known the “true facts.”
But Fred Jacobs, SeaWorld’s chief spokesman, told Times of San Diego on Friday: “The lawsuit filed yesterday appears to be an attempt by animal [rights] extremists to use the courts to advance an anti-zoo agenda. The suit is baseless, filled with inaccuracies, and SeaWorld intends to defend itself against these inaccurate claims.”
- Read: March 25, 2015, complaint on behalf of Holly Hall in Southern California
- Read: April 8, 2015, complaint on behalf of Joyce Cole Kuhl in Florida
- Earlier: N-Word Video Sinks Book-Signing by Ex-SeaWorld Trainer
- Earlier: SeaWorld Lawyer Warned Author of ‘Beneath the Surface’
He said SeaWorld’s parks are regularly inspected by the U.S. government and two “professional zoological associations.”
“The Association of Zoos and Aquariums recently granted SeaWorld accreditation from its independent Accreditation Commission,” he said via email. “SeaWorld is committed in every respect to the health and well-being of the animals in our care.”
Rob Vernon is a spokesman for AZA, a Silver Spring, Maryland-based nonprofit. He said SeaWorld Orlando and SeaWorld San Diego are accredited through March 2020 and SeaWorld San Antonio through September 2016. Accredited parks are posted here.
But Vernon said accreditation reports between the AZA Accreditation Commission and the facility are confidential, “so we don’t share those.”
“For SeaWorld or any other cetacean holder to receive AZA accreditation,” he said, “it is an assurance to all that the animals at their facilities are receiving the best care possible.”
Gainesville attorney Paul Rothstein, who filed the latest suit, seeks class-action status in hopes of recovering what park-goers paid for tickets or passes to SeaWorld — as much as $235 per person. More than 5 million people attended the Florida theme park in the years 2010 through 2012, the suit said.
Kuhl paid $92 for a ticket to SeaWorld Orlando in December 2013, the suit says. The court document then takes a deep dive into accusations of orca mistreatment and what it calls deceptive marketing practices.
The suit revisits claims made in the “Blackfish” documentary about trainer deaths and in former orca trainer John Hargrove’s new book “Beneath the Surface.”
The Florida suit is similar to one filed March 25 in San Diego on behalf of Temecula’s Holly Hall, a grandmother also hoping to lead a class-action attack.
Steve Berman — an attorney who has helped Hargrove deal with SeaWorld demands on confidentiality issues — is one of three lawyers involved in the 84-page Hall suit.
On Friday, he told Times of San Diego that he didn’t coordinate his suit with the Florida one, saying via email: “I don’t know [Rothstein]. Sounds like he copied our work.”
Berman responded to SeaWorld public statements that his suit is a “publicity stunt” aimed at boosting sales of “Beneath the Surface.”
“We worked with leading experts and stand by the veracity of our allegations,” Berman said of the Holly Hall suit.
The Florida suit, first reported by the Orlando Sentinel, aims to recover money spent on tickets the past four years.
“Although the company doesn’t release attendance figures for individual parks, it reported in 2014 that annual attendance for the three parks dropped 4.1 percent to 24.4 million visitors,” the Sentinel said.
Regarding the San Diego suit, attorney Berman says he expects a decision in nine months on whether the case will be a class action.
SeaWorld recently launched a new advertising campaign, and the Wall Street Journal reported: “In February, the company reported fourth-quarter revenue that topped analysts’ projections, but its quarterly loss was wider than expected. At the time, the company said it was seeing ‘signs of improvement in our business trends.’”