SeaWorld on Thursday warned investors that its full-year profits will fall by a further $10m this year, due to continuing collapsing attendance at its orca theme parks in San Diego and San Antonio.
The warning caused SeaWorld’s shares, which have lost half of their value since the release of Blackfish, a film cataloguing alleged mistreatment of whales at its parks, to fall 9% to $17.80 in early trading on Wall Street.
Joel Manby, SeaWorld’s new chief executive, said he was “very disappointed” to cut the company’s full-year 2015 profits forecast from $370m to $360m. The company said the drop in attendance, on top of big falls in previous quarters, was due to “continued SeaWorld brand challenges” stemming from Blackfish.
The documentary, released in 2013, claimed that the company’s treatment of whales provoked violent behaviour in the animals, contributing to the deaths of three people.
Manby refused to specify exactly how much attendance was falling at the San Diego park, but said that without the drop-off in California and Texas, overall attendance for the company, which also operates the Busch Gardens chain, would have been up on the previous year.
The company does not break down attendance for each park. But figures from San Diego authorities showed a 17% drop in attendance at the park in 2014 from 4.5 million to 3.7 million.
Manby, who took over as SeaWorld chief executive earlier this year, said he recognised that the company “clearly has more work to do” to restore public trust. He said the company had noticed an improvement in sentiment towards SeaWorld following a multi-million-dollar publicity drive involving TV ads and social media to counteract continued campaigns from animal rights activists.
However, the company has continued to face public setbacks. Last month, California authorities banned SeaWorld from attempting to breed new whales in a planned $100m extension to its whale tanks in San Diego. Manby has vowed to fight the ban through the courts.
It was also revealed in the current quarter that SeaWorld sent a employee undercover to infiltrate Peta, the animal rights group behind many of the protests against the company.
Manby admitted that the company had not acted quickly enough to address the public relations fallout from Blackfish and the changing attitudes of its guests.