SeaWorld lays off hundreds of employees


SeaWorld Entertainment announced Tuesday it is eliminating 320 jobs company-wide, part of an ongoing effort to sharply cut its costs.

In San Diego, there will be approximately 60 employees laid off, according to a required notice the park filed Tuesday with the California Employment Development Department.

The affected positions range from park operations and merchandise supervisors to senior trainers and animal care specialists. The breakdown is contained within what is known as a federal WARN (Worker Adjustment and Retraining Notification) notice that must be filed by California businesses that eliminate 50 or more employees within a 30-day period.


The announcement comes almost two years to the day since the Orlando-based company announced its last round of layoffs, which then affected more than 300 employees. At that time, more than 100 San Diego workers were affected.

SeaWorld Entertainment would not break down the overall job cuts by each park but said they will affect the 12-park operation and its headquarters.

In an emailed statement, SeaWorld said the layoffs are part of a restructuring program “focused on reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, reducing duplication of functions and improving the company’s operations through proven benchmarks. These changes are being made to best position our company for long-term success, and so that we can continue to do great things for animals across the globe.”

A company spokeswoman said the cuts will be a combination of layoffs and the elimination of vacant positions.

Currently, there are 2,750 workers employed at SeaWorld San Diego, although during the park’s peak summer season, the number of employees can be as high as 4,200.

SeaWorld San Diego Park President Marilyn Hannes said those workers being laid off would remain on the payroll through Feb. 4 of next year.


News of the company-wide cuts comes as SeaWorld is still struggling to right itself following a continuing slump in attendance and declining revenues. In August, SeaWorld said it would be suspending future dividends to shareholders as part of an effort to divert funds to developing more attendance-boosting attractions.

Three months later, during its third quarter earnings report, SeaWorld said it would be moving to cut costs sharply in the wake of still flagging attendance, but it did not mention the possibility of layoffs. It did, however, reveal that it was putting in place a “cost optimization program” that would result in a net savings of $40 million through 2018.

“We remain committed to a continued focus on the guest experience, the health and welfare of our animals, and the safety of our guests and team members,” SeaWorld said Tuesday. “It is an unfortunate, but necessary, consequence of the restructuring that some positions will be lost. For those employees, we are offering enhanced severance benefits and outplacement assistance to help with their transition.”

SeaWorld’s stock price on Tuesday closed at $18.21, up 9 cents.

It’s not surprising that SeaWorld is having to cut more jobs as it works on what will be a long-term plan to revive the company, said amusement park consultant Dennis Speigel. In the theme park industry, labor can account for as much as half of the operating costs, he said.

“Difficult situations require difficult decisions, and SeaWorld is making the kind of moves to save money that are typically done when you’re facing problems like this,” said Speigel, president of Cincinnati-based International Theme Park Services. “This is not an easy fix, I’ve said before this is a minimum 10-year salvage effort, and that’s still my belief.”

Frequent critic PETA was quick to weigh in on SeaWorld’s latest move.

“SeaWorld is still in the same sinking boat that it was in two years ago when it jettisoned its CEO and 311 employees, PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in an emailed statement. “Instead of sinking millions of dollars into failed PR campaigns, SeaWorld must listen to PETA, orca experts, and kind people everywhere and send these animals to seaside sanctuaries. Real change is its only hope of staying afloat.”


SeaWorld’s marine parks are in the midst of significant change as they move to phase out the long-running Shamu show and replace it with a new orca encounter showcasing the whales’ natural behaviors in the wild. Earlier this year, SeaWorld also announced it would end the breeding of its orca population, a move fueled by the harsh criticism company faced following the 2013 release of the “Blackfish” documentary that focused on the parks’ treatment of their killer whales.

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