SeaWorld and its former CEO have agreed to pay more than $5 million to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) to settle charges that it misled investors about the negative impact of the documentary "Blackfish."
"Blackfish," which was released in 2013, criticized SeaWorld's treatment of killer whales. The company later released statements to the press about the impact the film would have on its reputation and business.
The SEC, in announcing Tuesday that the company had agreed to settle fraud charges, said SeaWorld and former CEO James Atchison also "made untrue and misleading statements or omissions" in SEC filings.
SeaWorld has agreed to settle the SEC charges without admitting or denying the allegations. SeaWorld will pay a $4 million penalty while Atchison will pay more than $1 million.
Frederick Jacobs, SeaWorld’s former vice president of communications, also agreed to settle a fraud charge and paid $100,000 to the SEC, according to the SEC.
SeaWorld said in a statement to The Hill that it was “pleased to have resolved this matter and to continue to focus on delivering superior guest experiences, world-class animal care and rescuing animals in need.”
The SEC's complaint had said that SeaWorld's stock price fell in August 2014, "causing significant losses to shareholders," when the company acknowledged publicly for the first time that declining attendance was caused in part by the negative publicity.
“This case underscores the need for a company to provide investors with timely and accurate information that has an adverse impact on its business. SeaWorld described its reputation as one of its ‘most important assets,’ but it failed to evaluate and disclose the adverse impact Blackfish had on its business in a timely manner,” Steven Peikin, co-director of the SEC Enforcement Division, said in a statement.