Press Release

Seaworld Lawsuit: Plaintiffs Tell Their Story At Last

First phase of the Anderson v. SeaWorld case goes to trial

Berkeley, CA (March 25, 2020) — On March 9, 10, and 11, phase one of the Anderson v. SeaWorld case finally went to trial. Judge Jeffrey White previously ruled that this first phase of the trial will determine whether the plaintiffs have standing to bring this lawsuit against SeaWorld.

The International Marine Mammal Project (IMMP) of Earth Island Institute helped develop and is consulting on the lawsuit, more than five years in the making.

The two plaintiffs, Kelly and Juliette, contend that they visited SeaWorld with an open mind, but that SeaWorld misrepresented the truth to them about captive orcas.

SeaWorld has made many deceptive claims about captive orcas, but this trial is focused on the following false claims:

  1. Orcas live as long in captivity as they do in the wild;
  2. Captivity in general does not harm orcas;
  3. Orca dorsal fin collapse occurs as frequently in the wild as it does in captivity; and
  4. SeaWorld does not separate orca calves from their mothers.

Kelly and Juliette are asking the court to require SeaWorld to stop making false statements and instead tell the truth to consumers.

Kelly and Juliette are represented by attorneys at Covington & Burling LLP. Covington also represents Earth Island Institute. A third plaintiff, Marc Anderson, opted out of the case prior to trial.

Both Kelly and Juliette provided their stories through direct examination conducted by their attorneys, and then they endured cross-examinations by SeaWorld’s attorneys. Both plaintiffs maintained their case with great candor and forthrightness, despite several hours of questions from SeaWorld attorneys.

Video clips were then shown from the depositions of several SeaWorld employees as additional evidence supporting the plaintiffs’ case.

SeaWorld presented a witness, one of the SeaWorld San Diego senior orca trainers, on the stand. Her testimony was offered as a rebuttal to Juliette, but ultimately we found the trainer’s testimony to be unpersuasive and lacking credibility.

Now that the testimony for phase one has concluded, the plaintiffs and SeaWorld will submit a post-trial briefing to Judge White. Additionally, SeaWorld stated that it will file a motion for judgment on partial findings. The final deadline for these filings is May 8. We then expect Judge White to issue an opinion in the following couple of weeks, although it could take longer.

Assuming Judge White finds that the plaintiffs have standing to sue, the court will then schedule a phase two trial. This trial will focus on the substance of the dispute: Did SeaWorld mislead the plaintiffs with false claims about captive orcas?

Several top orca scientists and a veterinarian will testify against SeaWorld’s falsehoods in the phase two trial. SeaWorld will rely largely on its own staff as witnesses.

If people were told the truth about orcas in captivity, they would demand that SeaWorld change how it treats captive orcas and other cetaceans.

We are grateful for Covington’s commitment to this case. We also commend Kelly and Juliette for their long-term commitment and efforts to help discover the truth regarding the impact of captivity on orcas. A decision in their favor will have a tremendous impact on the public’s understanding of this important issue.