SeaWorld announces plans to revamp killer whale habitats

SeaWorld has faced negative publicity since the release of "Blackfish," a documentary about an orca held in captivity.
By Aileen Graef  |  Aug. 15, 2014 at 4:41 PM
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SAN DIEGO, Aug. 15 (UPI) -- SeaWorld announced Friday it would be expanding and upgrading its killer whale habitats after shares fell by 33 percent in the second quarter.

The company said it saw a drop in both attendance and revenue, leading to a 4.8 percent decline in the price of shares, which closed at $18 Wednesday. SeaWorld's financial woes follow the release of Blackfish, a documentary about inhumane living conditions and abuse of killer whales held in captivity. Jim Atchison, SeaWorld's CEO, said the documentary -- which he called "propaganda" -- has, indeed, delivered a blow to business.

"We're a 50-year-old company and we'll have difficult quarters, they'll come and they'll go," Atchison told the Wall Street Journal. "But we have an enduring brand and a unique position in the marketplace."

In an effort to battle the negative publicity that has recently plagued the theme park, the company said it upgrade tanks at three of its parks, starting with San Diego. It plans to double the size of the killer whale enclosure and extend the tanks depth by 50 feet. The company also pledged $10 million in matching funds for killer whale research. The upgrades will include a "water treadmill" -- a stream of moving water the whales can swim against -- that will allow the whales to exercise and will give scientists insight into how they burn energy. The project will reportedly cost hundreds of millions of dollars.

Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, said the updates are not enough to provide the whales a healthy life.

"You don't have dancing bears or tigers jumping through hoops anymore," she said. "Zoos have moved away from that model; they try to place animals in a more natural setting. So why do we still have sea animals performing tricks?" she said.

The upgrades, which will take place in Orlando, Florida and San Antonio, are expected to be completed in 2018.

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