Company CEO Suggests SeaWorld Doesn't Get Enough Credit
After carving out a successful career as the former CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, Joel Manby perhaps envisioned adopting SeaWorld's woes as an opportunity to cap a stellar career. The only proviso in play was that he turn the park around.
More than two years into what has proven to be a challenging career move for Manby, SeaWorld is the proverbial albatross around his neck. Under his leadership, the failing marine park has failed to gain ground, either financially or in the eyes of public perception.
It would be foolish of me to suggest that Manby's lack of success is solely his mantle to bear. The actions of his predecessors set the bar low. So low, that Manby could barely squeeze his head beneath it.
Manby attempted to turn the tide by acknowledging a changing mindset towards holding orcas in captivity. Shows changed from exhibitionism to an attempt at education, and he joined forces with the Humane Society to announce an end to orca breeding.
Unfortunately, none of it helped and SeaWorld's financial woes continue.
Addressing the issue in an interview with the "Tampa Bay Times" yesterday, Manby said, "SeaWorld isn't getting the credit it deserves for facing its problems." Furthermore, despite Humane Society CEO Wayne Pacelle acknowledging that the society "is happy with SeaWorld's progress," the message isn't translating well for the public.
SeaWorld's truth has always been a unique one, they often claim transparency and then act contrary to their claims. It nullifies their words and bolsters their critics. People know that an omission of facts, while often creative, is still untruthful.
In September 2014, SeaWorld shareholders claimed in a federal lawsuit that SeaWorld execs misled them about attendance problems caused by the documentary, "Blackfish." Two years on in June of this year the marine park disclosed it had received subpoenas as part of an investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
Mike DeForest, an investigative reporter at "ClickOrlando.com", said SeaWorld failed to disclose that it had known about the SEC investigation for more than a year. It was during the shareholder's suit, DeForest said, "the plaintiffs' attorneys pointed out that they had notified the court about the SEC investigation in May 2016."
The public wouldn't know for another 13 months.
"SeaWorld Cares", a motto that now warrants its own URL, seeks to reassure the public that the welfare of all marine mammals is of primary concern to them. To show how much, they refer to their partnership with the Humane Society and the "common ground" they both share:
" ... Both of our organizations love animals and want to protect them. The partnership helps each group extend its own mission and is based on our joint interest in preserving and protecting wild animals and the places they live."
Sounds lovely, but I can burst this touchy-feely bubble with one word: China.
Let me be clear, I do not want to rag on China. Despite being the only major industrialized nation with no significant legislation against animal cruelty there are some solid animal rights groups making their voices heard. It's a tremendous challenge now that China is considered to be at the forefront of cetacean captivity. As countries turn away from cetacean captivity, China is embracing it.
China's Chimelong Group launched its first killer whale breeding center this year with orcas captured from Russia’s Sea of Okhotsk. The country's expanding aquarium industry shows little discretion when sourcing their animals. They're more than willing to pay a premium price for orcas and beluga whales captured in Russia, or dolphins captured in the horrific dolphin drives in Taiji, Japan.
In March of this year, in a deal estimated to be worth around $440 million, the Blackstone Group which purchased SeaWorld in 2009, sold its remaining 21 percent stake in the company to the Chinese theme park operator, Zhonghong Group.
Zhonghong gained two seats on the board of SeaWorld and permission to build new SeaWorld-branded parks across China. In return, SeaWorld will earn licensing fees and render advice.
In light of its "interest in preserving and protecting wild animals and the places they live," that advice could include the opportunity to address the ramifications of sourcing animals from the wild. SeaWorld has experienced the backlash firsthand, and whether they admit it or not, capturing marine mammals is neither good for the animals, nor business, nor public sentiment. People-just-don't-like-it-period.
With SeaWorld having condemned the Taiji dolphin drives, they're perfectly poised to press the issue further. But will they? Revenue woes aside, the China deal is still on. Manby recently told AttractionsManagement.com:
"We're still moving forward in China ... We have light design work going on, but, really, it's a three-year study to figure out what is our process, what is our priority in China. We're looking at both FEC and theme park, and that's all actively ongoing. We hope to have an official agreement similar to what we had in Abu Dhabi as soon as possible."
As a business, SeaWorld's bottom line has to be about profit and that's something you can't sugarcoat. You also can't run a company at a loss for too long before somebody pulls the plug.
SeaWorld's plug is being yanked on fairly firmly. Their changes are ineffective, people aren't buying what SeaWorld has to say and they're failing in their efforts to be transparent. Case in point was the recent video discussing Kastaka's illness. Katsatka was present but throughout the segment, she was either hidden behind trainers or creatively "camouflaged" among several other orcas.
What is said by SeaWorld isn't always so, and what is done by SeaWorld doesn't always equate to the truth. If you scream you're changing, then you must accept the responsibility for those changes. Offering the perception of change while retaining the same core values is not evolution. Unfortunately for SeaWorld, the public figured this out long before they did.