In response to mounting public criticism over its captive breeding of orca whales, SeaWorld has indicated that it will phase out its iconic killer whale show in San Diego.
The apparent rebranding comes amid sinking stock prices and growing public concern over the welfare of the whales, and just four days after newly hired CEO Joel Manby told investors that "continued SeaWorld brand challenges" could slash another $10 million off of company profits this year, according to the Guardian.
In a PowerPoint presentation given by Manby and other executives this Monday, the company specified that it would "phase out theatrical killer whale show in 2016" at its San Diego location, while developing a new orca experience to debut in 2017.
The replacement show, as described in the document, would be "informative" and held in a "more natural setting." The presentation indicated that the new orca experience would include a "conservation message inspiring people to act."
Aside from an increased focus on conservation, the document also included references to shifting consumer interests. One company-generated graphic claims that "92 percent of moms want to buy products supporting a cause" and that "94 percent of adults agree that visiting a marine park or zoo can inspire conservation."
Executives placed a special focus on millennials, noting that 90 percent of them are "likely to switch brands — even when the price and quality are equal — if the second brand supports a cause." The company also outlined plans to hire more millennials, as well as the creation of a new "ambassador volunteer program" that would get young people involved in conservation activities.
SeaWorld Entertainment, the company that oversees SeaWorld, is worth an estimated $1.65 billion, but has seen attendance at its 11 parks dip in recent years. This has been particularly true in San Diego, where the longstanding killer whale show had once been a central audience draw. According to city authorities, attendance fell by 17 percent last year, to just 3.8 million visitors. The company has been scrambling to recover from the backlash from the 2013 documentary film Blackfish, which alleged that captivity had led to violent behavior among orca whales at the theme parks.
But in anticipation of the investor meeting on Monday, following leaks reporting that the killer whale show could be phased out, shares of SeaWorld Entertainment showed a slight uptick.
In addition to responding to shifts in public opinion, the move to cut the killer whale show is also seen as a response to pending federal and state legislation that seeks to end the captive breeding of orcas. On Friday, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Burbank, announced plans to introduce a bill that would ban the import and export of killer whales, the breeding of captive orcas, and their capture in the wild.
The California Coastal Commission recently said that in order for SeaWorld to move forward with its planned $100 million Blue World tank expansion project, it would have to stop breeding orcas in captivity.
While it is not yet clear whether the company intends to phase out similar killer whale performances at its Orlando and San Antonio locations, the presentation by Manby indicated that money from the show in San Diego would be re-allocated to other projects that were more in line with the new comprehensive plan.
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