John O'Brien Jan. 6, 2015, 12:47pm



SAN DIEGO (Legal Newsline) – Two law firms have been named co-lead counsel in a class action lawsuit against SeaWorld over an attendance drop following the release of the documentary “Blackfish.”




Stockholders filed lawsuits in 2014 against the company that alleged the company failed to disclose adverse facts about its business, ultimately resulting in a $9 stock drop when those facts were finally released.








The law firms named lead counsel by U.S. District Judge Michael Anello are Kessler Topaz Meltzer & Check of Radnor, Pa., and San Francisco and Nix, Patterson & Roach of Austin and Texarkana, Texas.




Also in Anello’s Dec. 10 order, he named Kirby Noonan Lance & Hoge of San Diego as liaison counsel.




On Jan. 19, 2013, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary, “Blackfish,” premiered at the Sundance Film Festival, and on Jan. 22, 2013, CNN Films and Magnolia Pictures acquired the rights to Blackfish.




“Blackfish follows the 39 year tumultuous history of Tilikum, a SeaWorld Orca Whale, who has been involved in the death or serious injury of several SeaWorld trainers,” a complaint filed by Lou Baker in September states. “Blackfish is comprised of interviews of former SeaWorld trainers, SeaWorld spectators and other experts such as Occupational Safety and Health Administration employees and scientists.”




Baker claims the film revealed for the first time that SeaWorld had improperly cared for and mistreated its Orca population causing mental distress to the company’s Orca population affecting trainer and audience safety; continued to feature an Orca that had killed and injured numerous trainers; and consequently exposed the company to material and uncertainties that could adversely impact attendance at its family oriented parks.




On July 19, 2013, “Blackfish” was released in theaters in New York, Los Angeles and Toronto. On Aug. 13, 2013, the company filed a press release on Form 8-K reporting the financial results for the first half of 2013 reporting a nine percent drop in attendance.




“SEAS falsely claimed that the drop in attendance was a product of the timing of Easter, when in reality, the bad publicity from the Blackfish film caused families to stay away from SEAS parks,” the complaint states.




CNN aired “Blackfish” on its network on Oct. 24, 2013. Nearly 21 million people watched “Blackfish” on CNN during that broadcast – an unusually large audience for CNN programming, according to the suit. “Blackfish” was released on DVD in the United States on Nov. 12, 2013.




Baker claims the dissemination of “Blackfish” sparked a nationwide debate about whales in captivity and the ethics of SeaWorld.




On March 13, the company “filed a press release on Form 8-K reporting the financial results for the fourth quarter and full year of 2013,” the complaint states. “To explain a 4.1% decline in attendance in 2013…Atchison falsely stated that ‘contributing to the decline in full year attendance was unexpected adverse weather conditions in the company’s second quarter and July as well as the impact of an early Easter in 2013.’”




Baker claims, in reality, the decline in attendance was the result of the mounting backlash from the “Blackfish” film.




Two pension funds were appointed as lead plaintiffs after claiming they suffered approximately $4.3 million in losses.




One of the funds is the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System, and the other is Pensionskassen For Børne-­ Og Ungdomspædagoger.




From Legal Newsline: Reach editor John O’Brien at jobrienwv@gmail.com.



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