On November 12, SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc., issued its third quarter financial report. While the results were not as catastrophic as its second quarter report in August—when, after its revenue and attendance figures took a nosedive, its stock fell 33 percent in a single day—its performance for the peak summer season was still decidedly lackluster. Net income was down 28 percent and attendance was down by half a million people from the same quarter of the previous year. On the day of the report, SeaWorld stock tumbled 9 percent, closing the day at its lowest level yet. The company is now facing legal action from irate stockholders. Amidst the turmoil, SeaWorld announced that CEO and President Jim Atchison (who has long defended the orca shows) was stepping down.
While SeaWorld has at last acknowledged that negative publicity resulting from the revelatory documentary Blackfish has had an impact on its image, it is a classic case of too little, too late. SeaWorld management is still insisting that the Blackfish effect is temporary and will blow over, even as a growing number of corporate partners, such as Southwest Airlines and Virgin Atlantic, have cut long-standing ties with the beleaguered theme park. SeaWorld has become the butt of pop culture jokes, including in an episode in the current season of the television sketch comedy Portlandia.
SeaWorld can double down on its outdated business model, spending millions it doesn’t have on larger orca tanks, or it can heed the writing on the wall. It can retire its whales and dolphins to sea pen sanctuaries and build ever-more-cutting-edge rides and immersive experiences, taking people to the far reaches of the oceans via CGI and animatronics. That is the only future where everybody wins.