Without the performances of Shamu and other killer whales, SeaWorld said Tuesday that it hasn't been drawing the same massive crowds to its aquatic parks as it has in the past.
The shows might have inflamed with animal rights activists, but they were a hit when it came to filling stadiums. The owner of a dozen attractions across the U.S. also attributed the declining number of visitors for the quarter ended March 31 to a late Easter, which pushed spring break traffic into April. When the crowd count through the end of April is included, Seaworld says attendance is flat compared to last year.
"Given the improving attendance trends we saw in April, and the incredibly robust lineup of new attractions we are launching in the coming weeks, we are well-positioned going into our seasonally important second and third quarters," Joel Manby, SeaWorld’s CEO said in a statement.
Seaworld has been able to narrow its losses. It saw a net loss of $61.1 million, or a loss of 72 cents per diluted share, a 27% reduction from a net loss of $84 million, or a loss of $1 per diluted share, in the same quarter last year.
Throughout SeaWorld's network of parks, attendance plunged 14.9% to 2.8 million visitors in the quarter ending March 31, as compared to 3.3 million during that same period last year.
Visits to Seaworld in San Diego suffered because it hasn’t yet launched its new "Orca Encounter'' experience, which will allow visitors to see killer whales close up without forcing the sea mammals to perform tricks.
Revenues also dipped, to $186.4 million vs. the $220.2 million the company brought in during the same period a year ago.
SeaWorld has been under intense scrutiny in the wake of the documentary Blackfish, which raised questions about how the company captured and has treated its killer whales. Attendance began to fall and the company launched a marketing campaign and offered discounts to woo back visitors.
In 2015, regulators in California blocked SeaWorld from continuing to breed orcas, and last year, SeaWorld agreed to a breeding ban at all of its facilities. It also said that it would gradually end its theatrical killer whale shows, replacing them with programs that educate audiences about the animal's exercise and health.
Animal rights activists praised those steps but still take issue with SeaWorld holding on to the whales, instead of moving them to open-water pens.
"As Ringling Bros. circus prepares to shut down this month because of its failure to evolve, SeaWorld could save itself by not fighting a losing battle against the sea change of public opinion and set a plan immediately to move these long-suffering animals to seaside sanctuaries'' Tracy Reiman , executive vice president of PETA said in a statement.
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