Beached

Animal rights activists have drained $1.7 billion from SeaWorld’s market value since last July

August 13, 2014
Obsession
The Sea
August 13, 2014

SeaWorld Entertainment has mimicked its beloved performing whale, Shamu, taking a deep dive: its stock plunged as much as 35% after the company posted ugly second-quarter results (pdf) and lowered revenue forecasts for the full year.

The company said annual revenue is expected to fall by as much as 7%; revenue in the second quarter fell 1.5% from the same period last year to $405.2 million. Attendance was up a scant 0.3% to 6.6 million visitors, who on average spent less than visitors in last year’s second quarter.

CEO Jim Atchison attributed the weak results to animal rights campaigns and negative media attention. The company, which has 11 US theme parks including three SeaWorlds and two Busch Gardens, has come under close scrutiny over the treatment of its killer whales. PETA and other activists (paywall) have been protesting the alleged effects of captivity, targeting the theme park. Judging by SeaWorld’s market value, they have succeeded. The company’s market capitalization at its peak, in July 2013, topped $3.4 billion. With today’s tumble, the market value has been cut almost in half to around $1.7 billion.

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The activists have gotten help from politicians and the media. Blackfish, a widely watched 2013 documentary on the lives of performing killer whales, sparked debate about the ethicality of attending theme parks like SeaWorld after it aired on CNN. In March, the film’s director stood alongside a California assemblyman who proposed legislation to outlaw killer whale entertainment performances and captive breeding programs.

And just two weeks ago, Southwest Airlines ended a 26-year-old marketing relationship with SeaWorld, calling it a business decision—although it came after an animal-rights group accused the airline of supporting animal cruelty.

The entertainment company reported a profit of $37.3 million, or 43 cents per share, which was an improvement from last year’s net loss of $15.9 million, but still disappointed analysts, who were expecting earnings of 59 cents per share. SeaWorld’s shares fell nearly a third from yesterday’s close to $18.99 in midafternoon trading in New York. The stock had fallen to as low as $18.23 earlier in the session.

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