Sunday, 8 November 2015

SeaWorld fights to restore its image as shares sink in the wake of Blackfish

Documentary has made opposition to orca practices ‘the mainstream view’, says expert as company grapples with $10m blow to profits

Rupert Neate in San Diego

Friday 6 November 2015 20.42 GMTLast modified on Friday 6 November 201522.01 GMT
Sina Schmocker asks for a minute to think before responding. “I have really enjoyed seeing the whales and the other animals,” she said. “But I am really shocked by how little space they have.

“I knew it would be quite small, but I wasn’t expecting it to be quite this small,” Schmocker said of the 5.8m gallons (the equivalent of just under nine Olympic swimming pools) of tanks behind her that are home to the 11 orca whales of SeaWorld San Diego.

“I told my boyfriend I really wanted to come here and see them because we couldn’t see whales up close like this at home,” said Schmocker, 30, who is on vacation in California from her home in Bern, Switzerland. “But now I feel bad because I have given them $178 (£118) more towards keeping animals like this [day tickets to SeaWorld are $89 each]. And they make them perform tricks. I don’t think that should be allowed in 2015.”

Schmocker isn’t alone in feeling uncomfortable about SeaWorld’s treatment of orca whales, dolphins, sea lions and other animals at its parks in San Diego; San Antonio, Texas; and Orlando, Florida. Growing public concern over the welfare of the whales has plunged SeaWorld, a corporate giant worth more than $1.65bn, into crisis.

Customers are deserting its attractions – particularly at this park in San Diego, where attendance fell 17% last year to 3.8 million, according to city authorities – and the company warned profits will evaporate. SeaWorld refused to specify by exactly how much attendance was currently falling at the San Diego park, but said that without the drop-off in California and Texas, overall attendance for the company, which also operates the Busch Gardens chain, would have been up on the previous year. The overall number came in 0.4% down, when analysts had expected 1.5% growth.

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