1. Life & Culture

Judge tosses complaint that SeaWorld deceived customers over whale treatment

Published Dec. 28, 2015

A federal judge in San Diego has dismissed a class-action lawsuit brought by SeaWorld patrons in Orlando, Texas and California who claimed they were deceived about how the marine park treats its captive whales and wanted refunds.

SeaWorld has been in the crosshairs of animal rights activists and its revenue plunged since the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish. The movie chronicled the case of Tilikum, an orca whale that killed trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

The lawsuit claimed patrons wouldn't have purchased tickets to SeaWorld parks if they knew how orcas were treated, and they were entitled to refunds.

But in her order last week, U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo said the plaintiffs never showed that they had viewed any deceptive statements by SeaWorld before buying tickets.

"Plaintiffs' entire premise appears to be that no standards of care would be acceptable because killer whales should not be held in captivity at all," she wrote. "Yet, Plaintiffs knew that SeaWorld held killer whales in captivity when they purchased their tickets."

Paul Rothstein, a Gainesville lawyer representing some plaintiffs, was unavailable to immediately comment on Monday.

In a statement, SeaWorld officials said the lawsuit was part of a series of efforts by activists to phase out zoos and aquariums.

"SeaWorld welcomes this significant decision, which threw out all of the plaintiffs' claims, and which could signal the ultimate end of this litigation," the statement said.

Information from the Associated Press was used in this report.