Last Tuesday, SeaWorld announced that it would be laying off 320 employees from 12 of its theme parks. This is the second time in just two years that the company has significantly downsized its staff.
An SEC filing submitted by SeaWorld notes that the recent layoffs are in regard to a restructuring plan that will work to reduce costs by about $65 million. In 2016, the company’s shares dropped by 14 percent, which marks an all-time low for them. Furthermore, attendance was cut by half a million guests in the second half of 2016 in comparison to the same period in 2015.
It’s hard not to consider the downfall of SeaWorld to be related to the 2013 documentary Blackfish that exposed years of disturbing animal abuse happening at the park, while also uncovering the horrific reality of cetacean captivity. The film caused mounting protests against the captivity of orcas, and lead to California lawmakers putting in more effort to banning breeding in captivity.
In July 2014, Southwest Airlines revealed it would be ending its partnership with SeaWorld. And in December of 2014, SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchison resigned.
Last year, SeaWorld announced that it would begin phasing out orca shows at its San Diego theme park within two years, and called for a need to rebrand as an animal conservation rather than an entertainment company. Then, in March of this year, the company announced that it would no longer breed captive orcas, and pledged that it would halt the theatrical orca performances and replace them with shows focusing on the natural behaviour of the whales. This, however, was seen by many cetacean activists as a PR ploy to get critics off the company’s back to ensure it kept its revenue from declining even more.
And now, the recent news of SeaWorld’s second large layoff only brings the happenings that have occurred since the message of the film ripped through people’s hearts back to the surface.
“In the third quarter our attendance was flat with total revenue per capita declined by 2 percent due to unfavourable park attendance and decline in international attendance in Florida,” announced SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby.
Since Blackfish, SeaWorld has worked tirelessly to tear apart the film’s testimony of former SeaWorld trainers. They also reportedly spent $15 million trying to counter the $76,000 film’s message, yet numbers continued to decline. They’ve also tried to blame their slumps on the holidays, declining tourists from Latin America, and even the weather, but the reality is that have chosen to listen to truth over propaganda. And the result is the downfall of a once prosperous entertainment company.
And while SeaWorld claims it is now reimagining its business model, the cold hard facts that there are still currently 23 orcas live at SeaWorld parks in the United States, and 45 having died there since 1954, are hard to ignore. Activists have pressured the company to open the tanks and free the whales into sea pens, but SeaWorld has no intention of doing such a thing, as this would eliminate its biggest attraction.
The news that the company is floundering may be great, but it doesn’t change the circumstances for the 23 whales that may spend the rest of their lives in captivity consisting of glass walls and concrete.
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