SeaWorld says DOJ probe into ‘Blackfish’ statements is over

December 13, 2018

  • SeaWorld Entertainment says it has been notified that the U.S. Department of Justice is ending its probe into whether company officials misled investors about the negative impact the documentary “Blackfish” was having on its business.
  • In September, SeaWorld and two former executives agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle federal fraud claims brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleging they had made misleading statements about the documentary’s impact.

SeaWorld Entertainment says it has been notified that the U.S. Department of Justice is ending its probe into whether company officials misled investors about the negative impact the documentary “Blackfish” was having on its business.

In September, SeaWorld and two former executives agreed to pay more than $5 million to settle federal fraud claims brought by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission alleging they had made misleading statements about the documentary’s impact.

The Orlando-based theme park company said Wednesday in a SEC filing that Justice Department has now notified the company that it won’t take any action.

Attendance and revenue declined after the release of the 2013 documentary about the life of Tilikum, an orca that killed a SeaWorld trainer during a performance in Orlando in 2010.

Source: cnbc.com

Orca with ‘horrific’ injury to dorsal fin performing again at SeaWorld

June 11, 2018

Less than three months after sustaining a “horrific” injury to her dorsal fin, Katina is apparently performing again at SeaWorld Orlando, though with an altered appearance that likely will remain permanent.

Heather Murphy, founder of Ocean Advocate News, told BNQT that she went to check on the injured orca Saturday and discovered her performing again. She did not know when Katina resumed working, adding that SeaWorld has not reported any updates.

“Although she does seem to be improving, her dorsal fin is permanently damaged,” Murphy told BNQT. “If she were to get an infection, it could be a death sentence for her. She has reportedly been on antibiotics for so long that her body has become resistant, and she will not be able to withstand a major infection.”

As reported by BNQT in April, Katina, the matriarch of the SeaWorld Orlando orca pod, suffered a huge cut into the backside of her dorsal fin in what SeaWorld believes to be the result of interactions with other members of the orca pod.

The injury occurred March 17. SeaWorld didn’t announce it until two weeks later, saying “it’s not clear exactly how she sustained that injury.”

Murphy called the injury “horrific.” She captured an image of its seriousness and posted it online March 31:

Photo: ©Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News

Murphy took another close-up photo of Katina’s injury on Saturday. It does look improved but is still significant:

Photo: ©Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News

SeaWorld Orlando issued its own photo of Katina as she received treatment, saying it more accurately shows her condition today:

Photo: SeaWorld Orlando

“Although I hate to see her further exploited, I am happy that they aren’t shoving her in the back tank to be ignored like they did with Tilikum,” Murphy told BNQT, referring to the orca that was involved in the deaths of a trainer and a trespassing man at SeaWorld Orlando. It died in January 2017.

“At least she is able to stay somewhat active and socialize. She can live with the injury as long as it doesn’t get infected, as far as I know.”

SeaWorld Orlando responded Tuesday in an email to BNQT:

“The injury to Katina’s dorsal fin has continued to heal as expected. As reported in March of this year, her behavior returned to normal almost immediately following the injury. Since then, she is not showing any signs of discomfort and has been engaging with guests and the other orcas in her pod, as well as the care and veterinary staff as they continue to treat her.”

A recent YouTube video featuring long-time SeaWorld veterinarian Dr. Lara Croft addressed some of the issues in more detail.

Croft said that though Katina’s wound is deep it’s not life threatening, her blood work is not showing any signs of inflammation or infection, and she doesn’t appear to be in any pain. When trainers manipulate the wound, Katina doesn’t “show us any behavioral cues that it’s uncomfortable for her.”

“It’ll probably leave her with an altered appearance, but it’s not something that’s causing a systemic illness,” Croft added.

Some wonder why the injury isn’t simply stitched up. Croft said it has to do with the physics of it.

“Because that tissue is so thick and so heavy, and it’s made of fiber cartilage, suturing it together would require way too much tension and pressure on that tissue and would actually do more harm than good,” she said.

Katina isn’t the only orca with apparent issues. Murphy also pointed out a skin condition under the mouth of Malia.

Discoloration can be seen in the white portion below the mouth. Photo: ©Heather Murphy/Ocean Advocate News

“She has had the skin discoloration for close to six months following the pilot whales being moved to Shamu Stadium and the water temperature being raised,” Murphy told BNQT. “I’m not a vet, so I don’t know the technical term, but this is very similar to how Kasatka’s injury started in San Diego and she eventually died from it.”

Kasatka was a 40-year-old orca at SeaWorld San Diego that died nearly a year ago, reportedly from incurable pneumonia.

SeaWorld Orlando disputed the claim that anything is wrong, telling BNQT in an email:

“Malia, another orca in the pod, is showing a color change in certain areas of her skin. Samples revealed nothing concerning – simply put, the superficial layers of her skin are shedding more slowly, resulting in the color change. Her team of animal care and veterinary teams are monitoring the color change as it is an opportunity to learn more about the progression of skin changes in managed and free-ranging killer whales.”

To view photos of Katina and Malia visit the source at ftw.USA Today.com

Thomas Cook could end all trips to SeaWorld after it failed animal welfare check

April 30, 2018

Holiday giant Thomas Cook could end all trips to SeaWorld in Florida after the controversial theme park failed an animal welfare check.

An audit which Britain’s biggest tour operator ordered of SeaWorld’s flagship Orlando attraction highlighted concerns.

It has stopped promoting SeaWorld on its website and given bosses three months to deal with the issues raised.

Thomas Cook sells more than 10,000 day trips a year to the attraction, which has faced criticism over alleged poor treatment of its orcas, also known as killer whales.

The travel giant refused to comment on the findings but insiders said SeaWorld fell short of its 100% threshold.

It is not known which areas led to concerns.

SeaWorld and sister Florida parks SeaWorld Discovery Cove and Busch Gardens were among 100 attractions audited as part of an animal welfare policy, based on guidance from the travel association ABTA.

Animal welfare campaigners have long criticised SeaWorld. Bosses responded in 2016 by confirming they were ending the park’s controversial orca breeding programme.

They had previously announced that live shows involving killer whales were being phased out.

Yvonne Taylor, of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, said SeaWorld’s orcas were “forced to spend their entire lives confined to tiny, concrete, chlorinated cells, in which they can only swim endlessly in circles”.

She said: “There’s there’s no humane way to keep these highly intelligent animals in captivity, let alone force them to perform cruel tricks for food.

“Given that SeaWorld has now failed its own audit, Thomas Cook must end the financial lifeline it gives the park and stop selling tickets immediately.”

Thomas Cook confirmed it had audited the attraction and had contacted bosses about the results.

SeaWorld said: “While the physical audits of the parks are complete, the process is still ongoing.”

It added: “We provide world-class care to the animals in our parks.”

Source: Mirror.co.uk


Orca whale at SeaWorld Orlando suffers split to her dorsal fin

April 1, 2018

Officials: Katina, matriarch of orca pod, hurt interacting with other whales

SeaWorld officials are speaking Sunday, two weeks after an orca whale at the Orlando attraction suffered an injury to its dorsal fin.

Pictures posted Saturday on Ocean Advocate Newsshow Katina, the matriarch of the orca pod, suffering from a split fin.

SeaWorld officials said Saturday in a blog post that Katina suffered the injury March 17 while interacting with other whales.

“On Saturday, March 17, the matriarch of the SeaWorld Orlando orca pod, Katina, sustained an injury at the base of her dorsal fin as the result of interactions with other members of the orca pod,” the post read.

Officials with the theme park said that veterinary teams responded to Katina’s injury immediately and determined that it was isolated to just the base of her dorsal fin.

The whale is reportedly being kept in a separate pool with her daughter and son as she undergoes treatment and continues to be monitored, according to the blog post.

“Our veterinary and animal care teams are monitoring and treating Katina’s wound, including utilizing cold-laser therapy and medical honey treatments to promote healing and help prevent infection,” SeaWorld officials wrote.

Officials said they don’t find it necessary to keep Katina completely isolated from the other whales since her behavior has already returned to normal.

The injured orca was near a 12-year-old male named Trua when she was hurt, but since she was also interacting with several other members of the orca pod, veterinarians are not sure exactly how she was injured, SeaWorld said.

SeaWorld officials said aggressive behavior is natural for their species of whale, so they would not be surprised if the whales had been interacting in that manner, but that it is not clear if they were at the time of Katina’s injury.

“Killer whales are a social and hierarchal species, so interacting with other members of the pod, even in an aggressive or antagonistic manner, is a natural behavior we’d expect to see,” the post read. “However, it’s not clear if this was the result of an aggressive behavior or other interactions within the orca pod.”

The post also emphasized that the aggressive behavior is not a result of the whales living in captivity and that it is not uncommon among wild killer whale orca pods.

SeaWorld has been under fire and has suffered financially since the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which criticizes the practice of keeping killer whales in captivity.

SeaWorld officials first acknowledged “Blackfish” was having a negative impact on park attendance in August 2014, according to a lawsuit filed against SeaWorld by a group of shareholders who claim company executives misled them about the effect the film was having on their investments.

Following the announcement, SeaWorld’s stock price plunged more than 33 percent.

Internal SeaWorld emails made public last year as part of the shareholder lawsuit indicated company officials had concerns about “Blackfish” as early as December 2013, with one executive writing, “we look like idiots” after musician Willie Nelson canceled a concert at the theme park over concerns about its treatment of killer whales.

Former SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby stepped down in February after the company posted a fourth-quarter net loss of $20.4 million. Attendance had also dropped nearly 3 percent in the fourth quarter compared to 2016, according to the earnings report.

Dr. Heather Rally, the supervising veterinarian of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) released the following statement Monday in response to reports of Katina’s injury.

“SeaWorld conveniently claims to keep orcas in cohesive family pods, but in reality, this matriarch orca is held in a tiny concrete tank with five other orcas—only three of whom are related to her—and suffered immensely when a large chunk of her dorsal fin was ripped out. While aggression is rarely seen among family units in the wild, traumatic wounds such as Katina’s are an all-too-common consequence when complex wild animals are forced to live in unnatural, incompatible groups inside small tanks. As her life depends on whether or not this serious wound heals, PETA is once again calling on SeaWorld to send the orcas to seaside sanctuaries, where they may live safer, more natural lives.”

PETA officials said they planned to file a complaint Monday with the U.S. Department of Agriculture calling for it to investigate the incident for potential violations of the federal Animal Welfare Act.

The organizations motto reads, in part, that “animals are not ours to use for entertainment,” officials said in the statement.

SeaWorld Orlando officials said Sunday that they were continuing treatment on Katina, but they do expect the dorsal fin to have permanent damage as a result of the injury.

Source: Click Orlando.com

OUT OF ORCA Thomas Cook stops promoting SeaWorld online following animal rights protests

February 7, 2018

The decision comes after animal rights group PETA put pressure on the holiday firm, which resulted in 22,000 people sending in emails in agreement

TRAVEL company Thomas Cook has agreed to stop promoting SeaWorld online after months of protests.

Animal rights group PETA’s campaign for the company to stop advertising included 22,000 emails from supporters.

But PETA is calling for more action from Thomas Cook, urging them to stop sales to the SeaWorld marine park entirely.

The animal rights group disagrees with SeaWorld’s treatment of orcas and other animals.

The park faced accusations of cruelty last August after an ex-trainer made allegations against it over the way whales are treated after one called Kasatka had to be put down.

Her former trainer, John Hargrove, left the marine park in 2012 after 14 years caring for the whales and became a whistleblower.

He told the Mail On Sunday: “What continues to go on in parks like SeaWorld is an abomination.

“They claim captive orcas help educate people, and for years I bought into it. But Kasatka lived in misery, in barbaric and horrific conditions, and died in agony.”

Hargrove wrote a best-selling book on his experience at SeaWorld and was a central figure in the award-winning documentary Blackfish.
The 2013 film detailed the suffering of the animals at the marine park and caused the company’s shares and tickets sales to plummet.

And last April SeaWorld announced that the birth of a killer whale at its parks would be its last.

In a statement at the time, the theme park said: “Although this will be the last opportunity for SeaWorld guests to see a baby killer whale up close as it grows and matures, SeaWorld will continue to care for the orcas at its parks for decades to come.”

A rep for Thomas Cook told Sun Online Travel: “We have taken steps to remove promotional content for all animal excursions, in line with our animal welfare policy.

“This includes adverts, social media promotional campaigns and blog content across our websites and social media channels.”

A SeaWorld spokesperson said: “SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment remains committed to operating at the highest animal welfare standards and tickets to our parks continue to be sold by Thomas Cook.

“All of our SeaWorld parks are accredited and certified by several of the world’s foremost zoological bodies including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums (AMMPA) and the American Humane Association.”

Source: The Sun.co.uk

Animal rights group PETA bought stock in Thomas Cook so it could lobby the firm to cut ties with SeaWorld

February 6, 2018

  • Animal rights activists invested in travel company Thomas Cook in a protest against its stance on SeaWorld.
  • PETA bought around £1.20 of stock to gain access to Thomas Cook’s AGM in London and lobby executives and shareholders.
  • Campaigners object to the company selling tickets to SeaWorld, which they think is cruel and inhumane in its treatment of killer whales.
  • Thomas Cook told Business Insider that animal welfare is a priority.

Animal rights group PETA has purchased stock in travel company Thomas Cook to gain entry to its AGM and lobby executives in person to stop selling tickets to SeaWorld.

PETA has long been protesting against the Florida marine park for its treatment of whales, which it says is cruel and inhumane. It also targets businesses that deal with SeaWorld, like Thomas Cook, which offers tours to the park.

The group told Business Insider that it has bought a single share in the company, valued at around £1.20 ($1.66), because it grants it entry to the annual general meeting, being held in London this Thursday.

Yvonne Taylor, a PETA campaigner, told Business Insider that she and a colleague plan to use this right to go inside the AGM in east London and ask executives directly to end ticket sales to SeaWorld, and to lobby shareholders.

Meanwhile, protesters outside are going to distribute leaflets, and pose for photos. Activists will hold gravestones and roses to mourn 41 orcas the group says died at a young age during their time in captivity at SeaWorld.

PETA is known for its eye-catching and disruptive protests, but Taylor said its actions at the AGM would have a respectful tone and will be made in a genuine spirit of engagement.

She said their lobbying has had some effect already, claiming credit for a decision by Thomas Cook over the weekend to remove references to SeaWorld from its online marketing.

However, it still offers tickets, a practice PETA wants to stop. In a statement to Business Insider, Thomas Cook said it was “puzzled” that it had been targeted despite taking some steps to improve its animal welfare standards.

A PETA spokeswoman told Business Insider: “At SeaWorld orcas are confined to tiny concrete tanks, where they’re deprived of any physical or psychological stimulation.

“These highly intelligent animals — who live in large, complex social groups and swim up to 140 miles a day in the wild — are forced to spend their days swimming in endless circles and gnawing on the bars of their tanks in frustration.”

PETA considers this an example of animal cruelty, and has called SeaWorld an “abusement park.”

In a statement to Business Insider, Thomas Cook did not directly address its relationship with SeaWorld, but defended its commitment to animal welfare. It said:

“As the first tour operator to enforce an animal welfare policy by removing animal excursions that don’t meet the standards we require from sale, Thomas Cook welcomes discussion on this important topic.

“We have been encouraged by the support we’ve received from groups like World Cetecean Alliance, however we’re puzzled by PETA’s approach.

“This appears to criticise us specifically because we’ve taken an industry-leading position. We are committed to continue to work with the industry to raise standards of animal welfare around the world.”

Three killer whales died while living at SeaWorld’s California franchises in 2017.

The theme park has since phased out its emphasis on the animals, announcing in 2015 that it would stop using them in shows at some locations and in 2016 that it would no longer breed them.

The decision doesn’t appear to be a result of animal rights protest, though. Earlier this month, the SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby slammed “small-minded arguments from activists that really don’t know what they’re talking about.”

Source: Business Insider.com

SeaWorld and OCEARCH Join Forces to Bring Travellers Closer to Marine Life

February 2, 2018

SeaWorld Entertainment and OCEARCH, a leader in generating marine life scientific data, have partnered to make their research data available to both the scientific community and the general public for the first time ever. The partnership will bring everyday people closer to the water by sharing real-time data, content, and park experiences.

In an effort to promote global conservation and educate the public, OCEARCH is gathering data that did not exist previously. The research that is collected from expeditions is the first of its kind and is shared freely with the public allowing everyone to learn from the data collected. Users can learn about rescued animals, read their stories and follow their tracks in almost real time as they are given a second chance at life.

Chris Fischer, OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader said “Together, OCEARCH and SeaWorld will focus on bringing everyday people closer to the ocean to increase understanding of how to better protect marine animals and habitats. We are committed to providing open-sourced, real-time data and content, allowing anyone to follow our findings – from classrooms to researchers and experts.”

The most popular way for travelers to experience this is through the Global Shark Tracker where people can follow great white sharks, as well as the rescued and returned animals that rehabilitate in SeaWorld’s care.

SeaWorld veterinarians, scientists and researchers will participate in on-board missions with the OCEARCH team, sharing and collaborating knowledge and experience. A big focus of the partnership will be on education – co-development of content that will educate students, while inspiring the next generation of explorers, scientists, and stewards of the ocean.

Source: Travel Pulse.com

Bill to ban orca breeding in Florida dies in the Legislature

January 30, 2018

Amid strong lobbying from SeaWorld against it, a bill to ban orca breeding and future captivity in Florida has died in a legislative subcommittee.

The Florida Orca Protection Act aimed to cement into law what SeaWorld voluntarily adopted in 2016 — an end to its killer whale breeding program and a phase-out of performances as public attitudes about whales in captivity have shifted. California easily passed its own version of the law that same year after SeaWorld dropped an initial fight against the crack down.

Advocates say the marine park’s resistance to making its policy legally binding in Florida, home of its global headquarters, suggests its commitment to making this generation of orcas the last in captivity could be short-lived.

“This shouldn’t be a controversial issue because it’s just making law out of what SeaWorld says its corporate policy is,” Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Lindsay Larris said. “There’s no accountability. It should be the lawmakers holding them accountable.”

IN DEPTH REPORT: Advocates push orca breeding law as SeaWorld’s policy appears murky

State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, introduced the bill this legislative session after ALDF’s struggle to find a sponsor last year. Former Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, planned to file the bill in 2016 but changed her mind after meeting with SeaWorld officials, she said.

Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, drafted the bill for this session but decided against filing it after a meeting with SeaWorld officials in December.

SeaWorld spokesman Travis Claytor previously said because the company has already committed to end orca breeding, “the legislation is unneeded and distracts from the great work being done to positively impact Florida’s wildlife.” SeaWorld had three lobbyists registered to advocate against the bill this session, according to House records.

The Florida Attractions Association — of which SeaWorld is a member — the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association and Florida Retail Federation also lobbied on the bill.

The Florida Orca Protection Act had been pending in the House of Representative’s Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee but did not make the agenda of bills to be heard Tuesday.

Subcommittee Chair Rep. Holly Raschein, R-Key Largo, said it did not make the cut because it was introduced in the House without a Senate companion, indicating “there is not a strong will to move this issue this year.”

But there is no House or Senate rule that says only bills with companion measures may be taken up, said Travis Moore, a lobbyist who worked for ALDF on the orca legislation. It’s common for one chamber to move something legislators feel is a priority in order to negotiate policies with the other side, he said.

“It would be helpful and refreshing if SeaWorld cares enough about their own policy to help us instead of working so hard against establishing their own policy as legal public policy,” Moore said. “Their actions are more telling than their words.”

There are 22 captive orcas in the United States — SeaWorld has 10 in San Diego, six in Orlando and five in San Antonio, Texas, parks. The other killer whale in America is wild-born Lolita, brought to Miami Seaquarium in 1970. For decades, Lolita has lived alone in a tank just four times the length of her body.

Along with ending breeding and performing, the Florida bill, like California’s law, would have banned companies from shipping semen from killer whales out of the state.

Larris, the ALDF attorney, said that protection was especially crucial as SeaWorld’s ownership, and potential priorities, shift. Chinese investment firm Zhonghong Zhuoye Group acquired a 21 percent stake in the company in March, becoming the largest shareholder. Two Chinese executives now sit on SeaWorld’s board, one as chairman.

SeaWorld’s attendance is on a steady decline with 9 percent fewer visitors last fall and a 10 percent drop in revenue. Meanwhile, China’s aquarium industry is booming with 55 marine parks today and 27 under way, according to the China Cetacean Alliance.

With uncertainty over the SeaWorld killer whales ahead, Larris said ALDF will continue to advocate for this law to be passed next year. ALDF on Feb. 5 will host a screening for lawmakers in Tallahassee of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which detailed the psychological and physical trauma of captivity and is credited with a massive shift in public attitudes about SeaWorld’s practices.

“If we can’t pass the legislation this session, we want to make sure we educate people as much as possible about the issue,” she said.

Source: Tampa Bay.com

Bill to ban orca breeding filed in House faces pushback from SeaWorld

January 16, 2018

A bill that would outlaw the breeding and performing of killer whales in Florida has cleared the initial hurdle that kept it off the table last year: getting a lawmaker to file it in the first place.

In an effort to solidify a voluntary policy change SeaWorld made two years ago, Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, introduced in the House of Representatives the Florida Orca Protection Act. It moved to the Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee on Friday, but Moskowitz said he anticipates a fierce blowback from the marine park that could hinder progress.

“They had been out there trying to prevent the bill from getting filed by any representative,” he said. “If they hear the bill, members will vote for this, so (Sea World) is going to work to prevent it from being heard.”

Former Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, was interested in filing the bill in 2016 but changed her mind after meeting with SeaWorld officials, she confirmed. Representatives from the marine park met with Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, last month after he sent the bill to drafting. Their lack of support was clear, Diamond said.

SeaWorld, which owns six of the seven orcas in captivity in Florida, voluntarily changed its policy in 2016 to end breeding and phase out performing. But as the publicly traded company continues to bleed profits and visitors, advocates fear SeaWorld could reverse that policy at any time.

The organization’s leadership is also changing. Chinese investment firm Zhonghong Zhuoye Group acquired a 21 percent stake in the company in March, becoming the largest shareholder. Two Chinese executives now sit on SeaWorld’s board, one as chairman.

While SeaWorld’s attendance is on a decline, China’s aquarium industry is booming with 55 marine parks today and 27 under way, according to the China Cetacean Alliance. California passed a law identical to the Florida bill in 2016, making the killer whales there the last generation in captivity in the state.

SeaWorld keeps 10 orcas in San Diego, six in Orlando and five in San Antonio, Texas, parks. The only other orca in America is wild-born Lolita, brought to Miami Seaquarium in 1970. For decades, Lolita has lived alone in a tank just four times the length of her body.

“Sea World has come out and said they are going to do all this stuff and I applaud them, that’s fantastic news,” Moskowitz said. “I think it’s important we put it into law for them to hold them to their word and prevent future corporations from going into this business.”

In a statement to the Tampa Bay Times, SeaWorld spokesman Travis Claytor said because the company has already committed to stop breeding orcas, “the legislation is unneeded and distracts from the great work being done to positively impact Florida’s wildlife.” He declined to comment on SeaWorld’s efforts to quash the bill.

Animal Legal Defense Fund attorney Lindsay Larris said the pushback from SeaWorld suggests the company wants freedom to change the policy in the future, emphasizing the need for a law. On Feb. 5, the advocacy group will host a screening for lawmakers in Tallahassee of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which detailed the psychological and physical trauma of captivity and is credited with a massive shift in public attitudes about SeaWorld practices.

“We want to make sure this is really the last generation of orcas subjected to captivity, and we want to make sure Sea World is held accountable for the promise it made in 2016,” Larris said. “Doing it sooner rather than later will make sure no more orcas are born accidentally in captivity.”

Source: Tampa Bay.com

SeaWorld Hiding Orca Necropsies, Including San Diego’s Kasatka, Federal Suit Claims

January 11, 2018

What led to Kasatka being euthanized at SeaWorld San Diego? What killed two other orcas — in Orlando and San Antonio?

And why won’t the federal agencies involved with killer whales make the Orlando-based theme park company share its findings?

Those are among the issues being raised in a federal lawsuit filed Tuesday in Washington, D.C., by the Animal Welfare Institute, or AWI, also based in the nation’s capital.

Alleging violations of the Freedom of Information Act, or FOIA, the nonprofit animal-protection group is asking the court to force the National Marine Fisheries Service and its parent National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to explain why SeaWorld can withhold the necropsy of Kasatka as well as the cause-of-death reports of Tilikum and his granddaughter Kyara, who also died in 2017.

Moreover, AWI wants to know the legal basis for a reputed change in a public-display permit that once mandated the disclosure of killer whale necropsies.

“After the death of three SeaWorld orcas over a seven-month period,” says the nine-page suit, “NOAA/NMFS has refused to release or disclose the legal rationale for its conclusion that SeaWorld can ignore clearly stated permit requirements and withhold information that would shed light on the cause of death and medical condition of these whales during their lives in captivity and benefit science and marine mammal husbandry, stranding response, and medical care.”

Writing for AWI, attorneys Donald C. Baur and Sunny Tsou said: “SeaWorld refuses to release the whales’ clinical histories or necropsy reports.”

In response to a request for comment, agency spokeswoman Kate Brogan said Thursday: “NOAA Fisheries cannot discuss ongoing litigation.”

SeaWorld San Diego spokesman David Koontz issued this statement:

As required, SeaWorld submits mortality information to appropriate regulatory agencies. Additionally, we share this information with the public, and the zoological community.

Necropsy reports contain complex medical information and analysis, which are best interpreted and used by researchers and trained specialists.

SeaWorld does release specific necropsy findings via peer-reviewed scientific papers where the information is useful to the health and management of both free-ranging animals and those in human care.

Our teams work with a variety of scientists to assure that the data and biomaterials from the animals are available for specific and verified scientific studies that will benefit those species today and in the future.

Those interested in reading more about SeaWorld’s scientific contributions can review the more than 350 peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and books our team members have authored at SeaWorldCares.com.

(In mid-September, Times of San Diego asked SeaWorld San Diego for Kasatka’s necropsy but didn’t receive a response. SeaWorld posted updates here.)

In a press release Wednesday, the AWI said: “The agencies claim that an obligation under pre-1994 public display permits to provide necropsy results and clinical histories (complete veterinary records) is no longer in effect due to 1994 changes in the Marine Mammal Protection Act(MMPA), but have offered no legal justification for the claim.”

A series of FOIA requests for that legal reasoning was ignored, AWI argues in the lawsuit.

“This is an issue of government transparency and sound science,” said Naomi Rose, AWI marine mammal scientist. “We find it disturbing that the agencies have gone to such great lengths to hide their rationale for their legal conclusion.”

Rose, who in 2014 took part in a Voice of San Diego panel discussion on SeaWorld and its killer whales, said the government is allowing SeaWorld to withhold information critical to science.

The AWI release said SeaWorld cited generic lung disease as a cause of death.

“Fatal lung infections are all too common in captive orcas,” AWI said. “A more detailed look at the necropsy results and clinical histories would provide scientists, including those involved in rescuing stranded whales and dolphins, with important information on treatments, diagnoses and prognoses.”

The AWI suit said NOAA/NMFS still hasn’t responded to a Sept. 29, 2017, request for public records, which by law should have come within a month.

“Nor has the agency provided AWI with any explanation for the ongoing delay,” the suit says. “The other agencies have either responded in full … or acknowledged receipt and confirmed that review is underway.”

In March 2017 — two months after “Blackfish” subject Tilikum died in Orlando — NOAA/NMFS said it had concluded that the necropsy and clinical history provisions of Tilikum’s permit had been “extinguished” by 1994 amendments to the Marine Mammal Protection Act.

But AWI was told that “the legal analysis supporting this determination is exempt from disclosure under the attorney-client privilege,” the suit says.

This was done despite what AWI called “the plain language of the permit.”

AWI says its lawyers have provided legal analysis that the necropsy and clinical history are still required.

The case — 1:18-cv-00047-CKK — has been assigned to Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, the daughter of an environmental engineer.

Appointed to her current job by President Clinton in 1997, Kollar-Kotelly was presiding judge from 2002 to 2009 of the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.

In one notable case involving the Freedom of Information Act, she ruled in 2008 that the Office of Administration was not subject to FOIA “and therefore did not have to release records regarding missing White House e-mails” of the George W. Bush administration, according to CNN.

“The possibly lost e-mails are from a period in which the United States decided to go to war with Iraq, White House officials leaked the identity of CIA officer Valerie Plame and the Justice Department started a criminal investigation into who leaked the information,” CNN recounted.

More recently, Kollar-Kotelly, 74, blocked the Trump Administration’s proposed transgender military ban, writing in a strongly worded opinion that the policy “does not appear to be supported by any facts.”

Source: Times of San Diego.com