SeaWorld can’t be having a whale of a time right now.
The embattled theme park company, which has been dogged by controversy including boycotts stemming from the treatment of its animals, has now been hit with a class action lawsuit claiming that the company has duped visitors into paying to visit its parks by hiding the alleged detrimental conditions that its orca whales endure.
The suit was filed on Wednesday by Temecula, California resident Holly Hall, who says that she’s paid to go to SeaWorld in San Diego twice, buying tickets for herself and relatives. In legal papers obtained by TheWrap, Hall says that the company has created a “deceptive and false illusion” about the treatment of the orcas, which has lured people into visiting the park.
“The deceptive and false illusion carefully scripted by SeaWorld and created for the public has concealed not only mistreatment of these animals, but also concealed orca behavior that evidences how their captivity at SeaWorld is harmful to their welfare,” the suit reads. “Plaintiff, and tens of thousands of other consumers, would not have paid for admission to SeaWorld, for SeaWorld memberships, or for SeaWorld animal ‘experiences’ for children or adults (or would have paid far less for the same) if the truth about the treatment and behavior of SeaWorld’s orcas in captivity was known.”
Among the allegations in the lawsuit: That the shallow pools at SeaWorld expose the orcas to fatal risk; that the company drugs its captive orcas; that SeaWorld impregnates young female orcas with sperm from relatives and different ecotypes; and that trainers “masturbate the orcas for profitable sperm.”
The suit makes in-depth note of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which chronicled the tumultuous history of an orca named Tilikum at SeaWorld and helped turn the tide of popular opinion against the company.
A spokesman for SeaWorld has not yet responded to TheWrap’s request for comment on the lawsuit.
Hall’s lawsuit also alleges violations of the California Unfair Competition Law, violations of the false advertising law, deceit, unjust enrichment and other allegations.
The suit asks that SeaWorld return all payments made by members of the class. It also asks that the company be required to cease its alleged unfair business practices, along with other unspecified damages.
The Florida-based company has SeaWorld theme parks in Orlando, San Diego, California and San Antonio, Texas.
Pamela Chelin contributed to this report.