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For the third time in three weeks, SeaWorld has been sued over its killer whales. But the latest case, filed Monday in San Francisco Superior Court, calls for more than ticket refunds.

Trainer interacts with killer whale at SeaWorld Florida before federal ban on waterwork with the orcas. Image via Wikimedia Commons

The court is being asked to force operators of the San Diego theme park to admit they lied about orca care and “cease publication of false statements.”

“Plaintiffs bring this action on behalf of themselves and all other similarly situated consumers to halt SeaWorld’s dissemination of false and misleading statements and correct the false and misleading perception created by SeaWorld,” said the 16-page complaint.

Filed on behalf of San Francisco residents Marc Anderson and Ellexa Conway, attorneys for Covington & Burling hope the case will be granted class-action status and apply to everyone who bought a ticket to SeaWorld San Diego in the past four years.

The suit wants an order forcing SeaWorld to “inform the purchasing public that captivity in general negatively impacts orca health, that orca lifespans are shorter in captivity than in the wild, that collapsed dorsal fins are common only in captive orcas and that SeaWorld separates closely related and tightly knit orca family members.”

Fred Jacobs, chief spokesman for Orlando-based SeaWorld Entertainment, told Times of San Diego on Tuesday: “Our previous statements cover this.”

Of a Florida suit, Jacobs said last week that it appeared to be “an attempt by animal [rights] extremists to use the courts to advance an anti-zoo agenda.” He called the suit baseless and filled with inaccuracies.

Mark Palmer is associate director of the International Marine Mammal Project of the Earth Island Institute, which helped prepare the suit.

He said the previous lawsuits were mainly about monetary settlements, but “our suit is primarily seeking to reform SeaWorld’s promotion, marketing and communication to the public regarding the treatment of captive orcas.”

Christine Haskett, lead attorney in the suit, said in a news release: “SeaWorld is violating California consumer protection laws and engaging in unfair business practices.” 

Palmer said the latest suit has been in the works for more than six months — after the release of the critical “Blackfish” documentary but before publication of “Beneath the Surface” by former San Diego orca trainer John Hargrove, which is 18th on The New York Times Best Seller List for hardcover nonfiction.

“Whereas the other two lawsuits are in federal courts, ours is in State of California Superior Court,” Palmer told Times of San Diego on Tuesday. “The laws pertaining to unfair business practices, false advertising and consumer protection are considerably different in California. These factors distinguish our suit from others.”

The suit says SeaWorld’s “depiction of happy, healthy orcas” in San Diego has “saturated the public consciousness in California.”

The suit adds:

Even SeaWorld’s logo misrepresents the effects that captivity has on orcas and so misleads consumers. The logo is a stylized profile of two straight dorsal fins in an active and dynamic pose. In reality, a substantial portion of male captive orcas at SeaWorld suffer from dorsal fin collapse due to their listless existence.

If class action status is granted in the previous San Diego case, what happens to the new one? 

“Our class is different and set up specifically to seek an injunction, rather than a broader class seeking restitution,” Palmer said. “We intend to remain in state court and remain separate from the two other lawsuits in federal court.”

He said his firm has not coordinated with attorneys in the other cases “because we are filing in state rather than federal court with different claims and priorities.”

Seaworld trainer playing with Amaya, a baby killer whale. Photo courtesy of SeaWorld San Diego

Plaintiff Anderson used his computer in San Francisco to buy two tickets to SeaWorld San Diego from its website in March or April 2014, the suit said. Conway bought two tickets from a ticket machine at the park here in November 2014.

“If SeaWorld told the truth about the whales’ shortened and stressful lives in concrete tanks, and severe depression and boredom from sterile living conditions, no one would ever go there,” said David Phillips, executive director of the IMMP.

“Would people bring their children to SeaWorld if they knew the cruelty behind the orca whale circus show? We think not.”  

The news release said IMMP led the successful effort to return Keiko, the orca star of “Free Willy,” to his home waters of Iceland. 

The third suit came exactly a week after SeaWorld announced a national TV and online advertising campaign “that reinforces the truth about the company’s commitment to its killer whales.”

“The men and women who care for the animals living in our parks are our most passionate advocates,” said Jill Kermes, senior corporate affairs officer for SeaWorld Entertainment.

“There is no better way to convey the depth of our commitment to these animals and the sophistication of our care than to hear the facts from our veterinarians, trainers, keepers, animal rescue experts, and curators.”

The ad features Lara Croft, a veterinarian at SeaWorld Orlando, and Pedro Ramos-Navarrete, a senior member of the park’s animal rescue team.

Croft says: “With the highest standard of animal care in the world, our whales are healthy and thriving. …I wouldn’t work here if they weren’t.”

The ad stresses that killer whale care is an emotional and personal issue for SeaWorld staff.

“We love these animals and do everything in our power to assure that they’re happy and healthy,” Kermes said in a news release, which also said:

The campaign is part of SeaWorld’s response to animal extremist organizations like PETA, groups that have long targeted SeaWorld and other institutions as part of a larger agenda to close zoos and aquariums. In the past two years, PETA has issued more than 110 press releases about SeaWorld, filled with inaccuracies about the company’s animal care. This campaign sets the record straight and ensures that the public has access to the facts about the company.

“So far we’ve replied to more than 300 great questions from people who are truly interested in a dialogue,” Kermes said. “And, despite efforts by PETA and others to disrupt the process, engaging in this kind of real conversation with people who have legitimate questions about what we do has been gratifying and very well received.”

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