After earning $37.4 million during the second quarter (April–June) in 2014, the SeaWorld was only able to net $5.8 million during the same period 2015. The reason: last year’s movie Blackfish.
Unofficially, at least.
While many claim that the movie Blackfish is the reason for the abrupt drop in revenue, SeaWorld blamed holiday timing and extreme weather for the decline in attendance, but did not acknowledge any impact from “Blackfish” on public interest in the park.
The report also shows that Q2 attendance dropped by 100,000 visitors from 6.58 million in 2014 to 6.48 million. The Florida-based company operates SeaWorld theme parks in Orlando, San Diego, and San Antonio.
“Our attendance for the second quarter declined due to the timing of Easter, record levels of rainfall in Texas and continued brand challenges in California. These factors were partially offset by improved demand in our other park locations, including Florida,” said Joel Manby, President and Chief Executive Officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. “We realize we have much work ahead of us to recover more of our attendance base, increase revenue and improve our performance as returning to historical performance levels will take time and investment.
Blackfish is a 2013 documentary movie directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2013, and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films for wider release. The movie focuses on the captivity of Tilikum, an orca involved in the deaths of three individuals, and the consequences of keeping orcas in captivity. The coverage of Tilikum includes his capture in 1983 off the coast of Iceland, and purported harassment by fellow captive orcas at Sealand of the Pacific.
Reaction to the documentary prompted the bands and singers Heart, Barenaked Ladies, Willie Nelson, Martina McBride, .38 Special, Cheap Trick, REO Speedwagon, Pat Benatar, The Beach Boys, Trace Adkins and Trisha Yearwood to cancel their concerts at the “Bands, Brew & BBQ” event at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa in 2014.
In response to the film, New York State Senator Greg Ball proposed legislation in New York that bans keeping orcas in captivity. In March 2014, California State Assemblyman Richard Bloom introduced the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, a bill in California that would ban entertainment-driven killer whale captivity and retire all current whales. In June 2014, US Congressmen Adam Schiff and Jared Huffman attached an amendment to the Agriculture Appropriations Act, requiring the USDA to update the Animal Welfare Act in regards to cetacean captivity. It passed with “unanimous bipartisan support.”
Last year, the aquatic SeaWorld’s CEO Jim Atchison presented plans for a 50-foot-tall, 10-million-gallon tank for its killer whales in San Diego, part of an initiative dubbed the Blue World Project. The new tank is planned to include “stimulating new environments for the massive and majestic creatures, which have evolved to live in the open ocean”. The facility will open to the public in 2018, and after that SeaWorld will make similar changes at its Orlando, Florida and San Antonio locations. The company said the cost of the project will be in the hundreds of millions of dollars but would not specify the exact budget.
SeaWorld is also pledging $10 million in matching funds to support research focused on threats to killer whales, or orcas, in the wild. It also announced a $1.5 million commitment to a partnership focused on ocean health.