SeaWorld Survives Backlash of 'Blackfish' Documentary

Killer whale life spans
Getty Images/Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Joshua C. Cruey
SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) may not have a lot of fans among the growing number of people who have watched the scathing documentary "Blackfish," but it's hard to say that protestors are leaving much of a dent.

The marine life park operator posted another period of revenue growth during the holiday quarter, and it's targeting positive growth for 2014. It seems as if SeaWorld has survived the worst of the fallout behind last year's documentary, which took it to task for keeping killer whales in captivity.

The Splash Zone Includes Losing Some Performers

During last week's earning's announcement, SeaWorld reported that revenue climbed 3 percent during the fourth quarter as well as for all of 2013. Attendance fell 4.1 percent last year, but revenue is growing because those that are showing up are spending more to get in and spending more once they are inside.

However, if one would think SeaWorld's attendance would deteriorate as more people were exposed to "Blackfish," reality has painted a different picture. Attendance across its empire of theme, amusement, and water parks dipped just 1.4 percent during the period -- and actually increased at its SeaWorld-branded parks.

This is a welcome surprise. This is, after all, the first full quarter since "Blackfish" was broadcast on CNN and became a streaming entry on Netflix (NFLX). The furor against keeping orcas in captivity to entertain park guests should be growing, but the numbers don't bear that out.

Successful grassroots campaigns forced many musical acts to bow out of an annual SeaWorld music festival, and a California lawmaker is proposing a bill that would ban killer whales from being held in captivity. There are two sides to every story, and just because the "Blackfish" documentary filmmakers went first doesn't mean that they will have the final say on public perception. SeaWorld has refuted many of the claims made in the movie.

Diving Into a New Year and Predicting a Strong One

SeaWorld sees revenue clocking in between $1.49 billion and $1.52 billion for 2014, implying growth of as much as 4 percent. It sees operating results improving by even more than that.

SeaWorld has exposed some of the inconsistencies in "Blackfish," and it has ramped up efforts to educate the market on its marine life rescue initiatives. A documentary may have painted it as a villain, but the company feels it does right on most counts.

If SeaWorld ended its iconic killer whale shows, its parks would continue to be magnetic, and it would win back guests that have tried to take boycotts viral. The problem, naturally, is that it would open the door to folks arguing that dolphins, sea lions, penguins and other ocean critters shouldn't be in the park's habitats, either. It's a movement that could eventually sting local zoos.

In the end, registers don't lie. SeaWorld is making record sums of money, and that's something that bad publicity hasn't been able to wash away.

Motley Fool contributor Rick Munarriz owns shares of Netflix. The Motley Fool recommends Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Netflix. Try any of our newsletter services free for 30 days. ​

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Doni Doo

Rick, this article is terrible. prides itself in “offering the latest financial news and advice from leading business and finance experts” – but, this sounds more like a SeaWorld brochure.
No wait, you sound like one of the minimum-wage teen “experts” that walk around the park giving tours, telling children and PARENTS, “Look! The dolphin is smiling!”
I’m literally in SHOCK that your thoughts were actually allowed to be published – at least on here.
To call SeaWorld “magnetic” is ridiculous. I’m amazed you’re not pointing out that they are having a “Going out of Business” sale. Tickets are down to half of their regular price, they’re doing buy one and get one free coupons, and they’re even giving the military and teachers complimentary entrance to the park.
“The problem, naturally, is that it would open the door to folks arguing that dolphins, sea lions, penguins and other ocean critters shouldn't be in the park's habitats, either. It's a movement that could eventually sting local zoos.” Huh, ocean critters? What is this, a kindergarten? We’re talking about the most intelligent, self-aware animals in the world being forced to perform silly tricks for human attention and food (the only two positive reinforcements they know).
Really, really disappointing but then again, it could always be worse. At least, you’re just the author of this biased, under researched article and not the Mayor of San Diego. to see real news.

March 19 2014 at 2:57 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jim Light

Believing SeaWorld propaganda is like believing the old tobacco ads saying their research showed no health impacts from smoking. The collapsed dorsal fins, ground down, broken and drilled out teeth, and short lifespan of SeaWorld orcas show that orca's are not doing well in captivity. And looking at their barren, small holding pools, it is no wonder.

As to Conservation, SeaWorld spends far more on lobbying and campaign contributions. Their conservation efforts are no more than window dressing. A single non-profit on the Central California Coast spent nearly as much in one year on resuce than SeaWorld has in 10. And a single non-profit in San Pedro, California rescued 640 sea mammals in 2013. SeaWrold's average across all its parks is just 575.

The tide is building against SeaWorld. it is time they changed their business model.

March 17 2014 at 4:55 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

People are to stupid to realize that to many animals held captive in one holding will become aggressive towards each other and the trainers. Blackfish didn't detail in the documentary was how aggressive the whales are on a daily basis towards each other!!

March 17 2014 at 4:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply