AWI Sues over Access to Tilikum Necropsy

AWI filed suit in January against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) related to the agencies’ refusal to enforce requirements for SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment to submit necropsy results of three orcas who died last year—including Tilikum, the orca featured in the documentary Blackfish.

SeaWorld is obligated under display permits issued prior to 1994 to provide complete veterinary records and necropsy results for these animals to NMFS upon their deaths. NOAA/NMFS and SeaWorld, however, claim that 1994 changes to the Marine Mammal Protection Act extinguish those obligations. AWI provided the federal agencies with legal analysis to the contrary, and the agencies themselves have offered no legal justification for the claim. AWI requested documents under the Freedom of Information Act pertaining to the decision. When the agencies failed to respond, the lawsuit was filed.

As it stands, the government is allowing SeaWorld to withhold information critical to science—one of the justifications for public display under the law—that would shed light on the lives and deaths of these orcas.