Consolidation of SeaWorld Killer Whale Abuse Lawsuits in MDL Sought

As a growing number of class action lawsuits continue to be filed against SeaWorld over allegedly abusive treatment of killer whales, a group of plaintiffs are asking that the cases be centralized before one judge as part of a federal multidistrict litigation (MDL).

At least four SeaWorld class action lawsuits have been filed in recent weeks on behalf of former attendees who indicate that they never would have visited the park or paid the same admission price if they had known about killer whale abuses recently highlighted in the documentary “Blackfish”.

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.

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

In a petition (PDF) filed with the U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation (JPML) on April 23, plaintiffs from at least two of the cases have requested that cases filed in various different federal district courts be centralized before one judge in California to avoid contradictory rulings and duplicative discovery.

Plaintiffs seek 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.

SeaWorld has recently 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.

Just this Wednesday, 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.

Last month a federal appeals court upheld a lower court’s ruling and findings by OSHA that SeaWorld failed to protect Dawn Brancheau, a trainer who was killed in 2010 and was the focus of the Blackfish documentary.

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. 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.

“The deceptive and false illusion carefully scripted by SeaWorld and created for the public has concealed not only the mistreatment of these animals, but also concealed orca behavior that evidences how their captivity at SeaWorld is harmful to their welfare,” the MDL petition states. “Concealed from the public is the impact on these animals of captivity in a tiny 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 U.S. JPML is expected to schedule oral arguments on the motion to establish a SeaWorld lawsuit MDL during an upcoming hearing set for July 30 in San Francisco, California.


  • MelissaMay 7, 2015 at 2:12 am

    Sea World sucks & should be ashamed of the abuse the inflict.

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