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SeaWorld stock falls 33% as orca controversy hurts attendance

Media IndustryAmusement and Theme ParksSeaWorld OrlandoSeaWorld EntertainmentJim Atchison
SeaWorld Entertainment shares take record plunge
SeaWorld executives concede that 'Blackfish' charges have hurt attendance

Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment plunged 33% Wednesday after the company's earnings missed Wall Street expectations.

The Orlando, Fla.-based company also conceded for the first time that attendance at its theme parks has been hurt by negative publicity concerning accusations by animal-rights activists that SeaWorld mistreats killer whales.

In the past, SeaWorld executives attributed declining attendance numbers to a rise in ticket prices and a shift in the timing of the Easter holiday this year.

SeaWorld shares dropped $9.25 to close at $18.90.

The company reported 6.6 million visitors in the April-to-June period, nearly flat compared with the same period in 2013. Net income jumped to $37 million, or 43 cents per share, compared with a loss of $15.9 million, or 18 cents, a year earlier. Analysts had expected 60 cents per share. Sales fell 1% to $405.2 million.

Animal rights activists celebrated the stock drop.

“Anyone who cares about marine life and wants orcas and dolphins to live free with their pods is cheering the fact that SeaWorld's stock is tanking,” said Jared Goodman, director of animal law for People for the Ethical Treatment fo Animals, which has organized protests against SeaWorld.

Company executives announced cost-cutting efforts as a result of the latest earnings report.

“In order to drive growth, we are undertaking a number of initiatives, including a detailed review of our company-wide cost structure with the goal of driving significant cash cost savings in 2014 and 2015,” Jim Atchison, chief executive and president of SeaWorld Entertainment, said in a statement.

SeaWorld has been under harsh criticism since the release last year of a documentary titled “Blackfish,” which accuses the parks of mistreating the killer whales that are featured in their shows.

A petition on Change.org that calls for the release of an orca featured in the film has more than 164,000 signatures.

“When it comes down to it, it is regular people being frustrated and disappointed with how animals are treated at SeaWorld,” said Pulin Modi, senior campaigner at Change.org.

SeaWorld has launched a counterattack on social media, posting online video of trainers talking about their love for the orcas.

 

To read more about travel, tourism and the airline industry, follow me on Twitter at @hugomartin

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