SeaWorld exec admits he did not tell the truth about 'Blackfish'

Former VP deposed as part of investors' class action lawsuit

Documents released Friday show the impact the documentary "Blackfish" had on SeaWorld.

ORLANDO, Fla. – A former SeaWorld executive admitted under oath that he did not tell the public the truth about how the documentary "Blackfish" was impacting the company, newly released court records show.

Fred Jacobs, SeaWorld's former vice president of communications, was deposed as part of a class action lawsuit filed against the company by some shareholders.   

The investors claim SeaWorld executives misled them about how the film was hurting theme park attendance and revenue.

[READ: SeaWorld's court filing]

"Blackfish," a documentary critical of keeping killer whales in captivity, was released to theaters in July 2013.

The following month, after the company reported a drop in theme park visitation, Jacobs told the financial publication Bloomberg, "We can attribute no attendance impact at all to the movie."

In a newly released deposition transcript, Jacobs acknowledged he was not truthful with the reporter.

[WEB EXTRA: Jacob's Deposition]

"Was that a true statement when you made it?" an attorney representing the plaintiffs asked.

"No," replied Jacobs.

The attorney later asked the former SeaWorld executive if he knew whether the statement was untrue when he made it.

"I didn't believe it to be true," Jacobs said.

About a year after Jacobs denied "Blackfish" was hurting SeaWorld, the company acknowledged negative publicity related to the documentary was, in fact, negatively impacting the company.

In August 2014, SeaWorld's stock price plunged more than 33 percent. It has since recovered.

Two of the plaintiffs in the class action lawsuit, the Arkansas Public Employees Retirement System and a teacher's pension fund based in Denmark, said they suffered more than $4 million in losses as a result of SeaWorld's misleading statements.

“Jacobs confessed that he lied on behalf of SeaWorld,” the plaintiffs wrote in a recent court filing.  “The factual record in securities fraud cases rarely contains the types of explosive and compelling evidence that Plaintiffs have developed here.”

[READ: Plaintiff's court filings released]

SeaWorld has denied any wrongdoing as is attempting to get the class action lawsuit dismissed.

SeaWorld did not immediately respond to an email from News 6 offering an opportunity to comment.  

Jacobs, who left the company in 2015, could not immediately be reached for comment.

Last year Jacobs agreed to settle a fraud charge with the Securities and Exchange Commission for $100,000. 

SeaWorld and its former chief executive officer, James Atchison, agreed to settle the SEC’s charges for $5 million without admitting or denying the allegations.

Transcripts from Jacobs' deposition is among thousands of pages of previously confidential court records that were made public Friday.

This is a developing story.

About the Author:

Emmy Award-winning investigative reporter Mike DeForest has been covering Central Florida news for more than two decades.