SeaWorld has admitted that a number of their employees have spied on critics over the past few years. This statement was made by the park’s CEO, Joel Manby on Feb. 25, 2016. Their employees posed and even created false identities in order to collect information for the company in response to the many threats the theme park has received targeting the mistreatment of their captive sea animals.
SeaWorld dispatched a number of their employees to pose as animal rights activists. According to the Huffington Post, they conducted these investigations “with efforts to maintain the safety and security of [the] company’s employees, customers, and animals.” The theme park has received threats from animal rights campaigns since 2013 when the film Blackfish released. The severity nor content of those threats has been released to the public.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), accused one of the men that worked on one of its anti-SeaWorld campaigns in July of 2015. PETA alleged that this man was a SeaWorld employee and accused him of spying on the longtime critic group. Paul McComb, who went by the name “Thomas Jones,” has been employed at the park since 2008. He was released on administrative leave though he currently works for one of the theme park’s other departments.
SeaWorld initially hired a law firm to investigate PETA’s charges last July. At the recent end of the case, the theme park’s management team was directed by an independent counsel that they end the “spy practice.” Officials argued that they infiltrated their employees to protect the safety of their customers, animals, and employees.
Blackfish is a documentary that has since placed a spotlight on SeaWorld. The film documents the theme park’s alleged mistreatment of their animals and addresses the controversy that killer whales reach a psychotic state during captivity. The documentary was made after a SeaWorld trainer, Dawn Brancheau was attacked, drowned, and killed by one of the park’s corpulent whales in 2010. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) fined SeaWorld $75,000 for violating three safety violations.
Brancheau worked as a trainer for SeaWorld Orlando (Orlando, Fla.) for sixteen years prior to her death at the age of 40. Her family created the Dawn Brancheau Foundation and has continued her legacy by helping others, the environment, and animals. Blackfish mentions the orca, Tilikum, who not only drowned and killed Brancheau but two other trainers in its 34 years of living. Those deaths included a trainer at the Sealand of the Pacific in British Columbia in 1991 and a man who trespassed at SeaWorld Orlando in 1999. Tilikum returned to performing in 2011 and is still being held in Florida.
Tracy Reiman, PETA’s executive president, stated that in response to SeaWorld’s comments admitting that their employees spied on critics like PETA, the theme park must “value its spies.” SeaWorld has yet to deny any accusations made about sending their team members to collect information from their critics.
On Feb. 25, SeaWorld’s stock declined over 9 percent and closed at $18.01. This did not correlate to the employee-spying scandal, and it generally was a result of the company’s performance and general concerns. Despite the stock decline, SeaWorld did see a rise in attendance this quarter and was not as vacuous as one would assume they would be. It was reported that SeaWorld had an attendance of approximately 4.41 million this year versus 4.37 million this time last year.
By Tricia Manalansan
Edited by Cathy Milne
Huffington Post: SeaWorld Dispatched Employees To Infiltrate Animal Rights Groups
Orlando Sentinel: SeaWorld admits employees posed as animal activists to spy on critics
The Motley Fool: Why SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. Stock Plunged Today
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