Less than a year after hiring a new chief executive, SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. shook up its management and created a branch to focus on expanding the company’s theme parks.
Joel Manby, named president and CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment in March, disclosed the changes as the Orlando, Fla.-based company struggles to recover from a slump in attendance, profits and stock price.
SeaWorld Entertainment’s troubles began in late 2013 with the release of the documentary “Blackfish,” which accused the company of neglecting and abusing its orcas. The film prompted animal rights activists, including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, to organize protests against SeaWorld that are still ongoing.
In a statement, Manby said only that the changes will help “deliver on our strategic priorities.”
John Reilly, president of SeaWorld San Diego, is becoming chief parks operations officer, replacing Dan Brown, who is retiring, effective April 1. Reilly will oversee 11 parks in five states.
Christopher Dold, vice president of veterinary services, has been named chief zoological officer, replacing Brad Andrews, who has held the post since 2010. Andrews will remain zoological director emeritus.
Marilyn Hannes, vice president of global sales, has been promoted to park president of SeaWorld San Diego and Aquatica San Diego.
Carl Lum, president of Busch Gardens Williamsburg and Water Country USA, has been named president of SeaWorld San Antonio. He succeeds Dan Decker, who is leaving the company; no reason was given. Four animals died at the park in the last several months.
SeaWorld Entertainment also announced the creation of a resort development group, headed by Steve Iandolo, a former hospitality executive. The development group has been created to push Manby's previously announced plan to expand the parks, possibly with new hotels and rides.
“SeaWorld wants to change the way things are going,” said Robert Niles, editor of Theme Park Insider. “Manby's job is to find the people who can change things at the company and get them on a better path with more aggressive growth.”
In response to the shake-up, PETA Senior Vice President Lisa Lange pointed to the recent animal deaths at the San Antonio park.
“SeaWorld is hemorrhaging leadership almost as quickly as the animals in its tiny tanks are losing their lives,” she said. “The company's only hope of staying afloat is to ditch its archaic roadside zoo-style displays and build coastal sanctuaries and new exhibits that feature only virtual-reality marine mammals.”
SeaWorld San Diego on Tuesday said it would build a major aquarium-based attraction featuring a signature submarine ride that will traverse a 3-acre area. The park this year is phasing out theatrical killer whale entertainment in favor of showcasing animals’ natural behavior.
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