Seaworld and some execs under investigation by Securities and Exchange Commission

SeaWorld Entertainment  was subpoenaed by the Justice Department over an investigation about disclosures made concerning the ‘Blackfish’ documentary impact and trading in the securities of the company. The investigation relates to public statements and the disclosures  made by the firm and some executives.  SeaWorld said that it had received subpoenas from both the Justice Department and the S.E.C., concerning “disclosures and public statements made by the Company and certain executives…on or before August 2014, including those regarding the mimpact of the “Blackfish” documentary and trading of the company’s securities…” The company was accused in the  2013 documentary Blackfish of abusing the captive killer whales that performed at its venues, charges it denied. In 2010, an orca named Tilikum killed its trainer, Dawn Brancheau, dragging her underwater and drowning her during a routine  at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla. SeaWorld did not cooperated in the filming of “Blackfish” which described how Tilikum had killed three people. In 2013 following the release of the documentary, Seaworld was criticized . Animal rights activists argued that keeping the killer whales in small tanks was mistreatment as their natural environment is the open seas. Activists say the killer whales have a short lifespan when in captivity compared to those in the wild. When the ‘Blackfish’ documentary was  released, Seaworld  described the film as being a piece of propaganda that was emotionally manipulative, false and misleading.

SeaWorld was purchased in 2009 by the Blackstone Group, a private equity group.  Since the film Blackfish was presented, admission revenues have declined 11 percent since 2013, and attendance has fallen during that period. Last year, the company recorded a loss of $12.5 million on revenues of $1.34 billion. SeaWorld stopped paying its dividend last year, and in December announced a restructuring plan and layoffs to reduce costs. Besides the critcism by animal rights activists, SeaWorld is also facing a class-action lawsuit from some investors.

Jeffrey Newman represents whistleblowers.