Killer Whale Lawsuit Against SeaWorld Dismissed

A federal judge has dismissed a recently filed class action lawsuit against SeaWorld over treatment of killer whales, indicating that plaintiffs can not show that they were deceived by advertising by the amusement park or show that they suffered damages.

The decision to dismiss the SeaWorld class action lawsuit came from U.S. District Judge Cathy Ann Bencivengo, who said plaintiffs did not have “standing” to bring a lawsuit against SeaWorld over claims that patrons were deceived about how it treated orcas, or killer whales, kept in captivity.

The case was one of a number of killer whale lawsuits filed against SeaWorld following a documentary called “Blackfish,” which highlighted alleged mistreatment of the highly intelligent whales.

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The movie premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, focusing on the killer whale Tilikum, an orca involved in the deaths of three people, outlining the consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity.

While SeaWorld and some of the trainers involved in the documentary have accused the movie of distorting the facts, some say attendance at the parks have been greatly impacted since information surrounding the potential abuses were presented.

Plaintiffs sought class action status to pursue damages for individuals who attended the parks and paid expensive admission prices, unaware of how the park truly treated the killer whales.

Judge Bencivengo dismissed the complaint, saying that the plaintiffs could not prove that they ever saw any deceptive advertisements on how SeaWorld treated its whales before they bought tickets. The judge also said they could not prove that they relied on such misstatements when deciding to go, and pointed out that it was unlikely that any would ever go again.

SeaWorld has launched an aggressive commercial campaign to reassure the public that the whales are treated humanely. However, some conservationists and marine wildlife experts have backed many of the documentaries assertions and conclusions about the problems in keeping killer whales in captivity.

In April, a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling and findings by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration that SeaWorld failed to protect Dawn Brancheau, a trainer who was killed in 2010 and was the focus of the Blackfish documentary.

In May, the California Division of Occupational Safety and Health fined Sea World San Diego for failing to properly train orca handlers and for failing to properly protect them while they handled the killer whales. The park was fined $25,770 for four different safety violations.

Many consider killer whales to be one of the most intelligent species on the planet and potentially sentient beings. They are self-aware, have differing cultures and behaviors based on their pod and ecotype, and have a complex language and social structure. Brain scans and some behaviors have led scientists to speculate that they actually are more emotionally evolved than humans.

Some, including the makers of the documentary Blackfish, say they are too intelligent for captivity to be anything other than torture, especially given that some ecotypes have a 100 mile per day swimming range when free.


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