Photographer: Joshua C. Cruey/Orlando Sentinel/MCT via Getty Images

SeaWorld Subpoenaed on ‘Blackfish’ Comments in Federal Probe

  • Justice Department, SEC also look at trading in 2014
  • Chairman to step down at end of year in separate matter

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. received a subpoena earlier this month from regulators investigating disclosures and public statements by executives, including comments about the “Blackfish” documentary that caused a public backlash against the confinement of orcas.

The investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and Securities and Exchange Commission will also look at trading in the Orlando, Florida-based company’s securities before and during August 2014, according to a filing Friday. SeaWorld said it’s cooperating with the probe, and its board organized a special committee of independent directors, with their own legal counsel, to deal with the matter.

SeaWorld shares fell 33 percent on a single day in August 2014, when the theme-park operator reported earnings that missed analysts’ estimates and blamed the scrutiny of its treatment of animals in the wake of “Blackfish,” which was released in 2013. Activists say the large animals were inhumanely treated by keeping them in small tanks, when they should be kept at sea in pens. SeaWorld has since made plans to change its practices, ending its orca-breeding program and redesigning its shows to depict the animals in natural habitats instead of having them perform tricks.

The federal probes compound the troubles for SeaWorld, whose chairman, David D’Alessandro, failed to win re-election in a shareholder vote earlier this month amid a separate controversy over incentive payments. The chairman offered to resign immediately after the meeting, but the board decided to keep D’Alessandro through the end of the year, when he’ll step down, the company said in Friday’s filing.

The stock fell 1 percent to $15.65 Friday. The shares have lost 17 percent this year.

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