Attendance at SeaWorld parks dropped 13% in the first three months of the year, but park officials say they are still on track to report record finances for the entire year.
SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.'s 11 destinations and parks generated $212 million in revenues in the first quarter, a 11% drop from a year earlier, the company reported Wednesday.
The Orlando company also reported a net loss of $49.4 million for the period, compared with a loss of $40.4 million for the same period in 2013. The losses exceeded analysts expectations, sending SeaWorld shares down 57 cents, or 1.9%, to $29.34 on Wednesday.
Over the last few months, animal rights groups have accused SeaWorld parks of neglecting the killer whales used in daily shows. A documentary titled "Blackfish" illustrates such alleged abuse, according to SeaWorld critics.
In response, SeaWorld officials called the documentary inaccurate and manipulative of viewer's emotions.
SeaWorld attendance dropped from 3.5 million in the first three months of 2013 to 3 million in the same period this year, the company reported.
In its financial report Wednesday, the company said the drop in attendance was primarily the result of Easter falling into the second quarter of the year instead of the first. Theme parks typically draw huge crowds during Easter and spring break.
A spokesman for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals dismissed SeaWorld's explanation for the attendance drop, saying it was the result of public outrage over the treatment of its animals.
"The jig is up," said Jared Goodman, director of animal law for PETA. "People everywhere realize that SeaWorld is cruelty."
Based on a strong start to the second quarter and new attractions set to open, SeaWorld Chief Executive Jim Atchison said he predicts 2014 will mark a fourth consecutive year of record financial results.
The company is now discussing plans to build new parks in the Middle East, he said.