WASHINGTON, August 15, 2014 — SeaWorld’s stock is sinking.
At its lowest point, the stock was down by 33 percent and investors want to know why.
It could be because of the delay in opening new attractions or because some school systems opened early this year, cutting down on opportunities for more summer family vacations. But many believe the main reason people have stopped going to Sea World is due to CNN’s documentary Blackfish.
Blackfish, the Native American name for orcas, or killer whales, shows the treatment of the marine animals at SeaWorld and other similar parks in an unfavorable light. The film questions whether the creatures should be held in captivity at all.
The powerful film has created a backlash against the parks. While many of people may not feel comfortable taking up a picket sign and marching in protest, they are willing to stop buying tickets.
In response to the crisis, SeaWorld has issued a news release outlining plans to double the size of the orca habitats at their three parks.
The first of the new enclosures will open in 2018 in San Diego, with the parks in Orlando and San Antonio following at a later time.
The statement describes the “Blue World Project” as adding an additional 5 million gallons of water to the orca tank, creating a depth of fifty feet. The plan also will create simulated underwater currents and shoreline. Orcas are often 25-30 feet in length, at 50′ they are are still woefully short of coming anywhere near their natural habitat.
The animal rights group People for the Ethical treatment of Animals does not believe the plan goes far enough and is continuing to call for the release of all animals to sanctuaries. They said in a prepared statement, “A bigger prison is still a prison”.
SeaWorld needs to do something to survive the wave of hostility toward the park in the aftermath of Blackfish.
In addition to the decline in ticket and concession sales, Southwest airlines, which painted some of their airplanes to look like orcas, ended their 15-year promotional relationship with SeaWorld in July. The decision came after a petition on change.org gathered more than 30,000 signatures asking for the termination of the relationship.
A California bill, the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, was introduced in April. It would make it illegal to “hold in captivity, or use a wild caught or captive bred orca for performance or entertainment purposes”.
If the bill passes, SeaWorld San Diego will either have to close or change the park dramatically. It will be forced to rehabilitate the orcas and return them to the wild or transfer them to protected ocean sanctuaries.
SeaWorld was a privately held company until 2012, when it went public.
SeaWorld is taking an expensive gamble to rehabilitate its reputation. In addition to the cost of the changes in the habitats, the corporation also pledged $10 million for killer whale research.
This is only the latest effort made to recover from the damage of Blackfish. SeaWorld has made various prior attempts that have failed in part due to eagle-eyed animal rights activists.
In January, SeaWorld’s twitter account showed a photo of a mother orca and calf with the caption, “Sea World recognizes the important bond between mother and calf,” but a former SeaWorld trainer contradicted the campaign, reporting that mother and calf were separated by the park.
In the same month, the CEO of Blackstone, the primary investor of SeaWorld, blamed orca trainer Dawn Brancheau for her own death. Blackstone said she had “violated all of the safety rules” despite video evidence that contradicted this statement.
Finally, SeaWorld tried to help their reputation by slanting the results on an online poll about Orlando residents feelings toward SeaWorld after Blackfish. When the results were dramatically in favor of the park, a simple look at the IP addresses of the voters revealed that over half of the voters came from SeaWorld computers.
Time will tell if the Blue World Project will do the trick investors are hoping for.
— The Dodo (@dodo) August 15, 2014