SeaWorld Orca Sanctuary Solution Offered by PETA Stockholders

Earlier this year, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which owns shares of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., tried to propose a solution for the park's ongoing public criticism over its treatment of captive orcas: the creation of a coastal retirement sanctuary for SeaWorld's killer whales.

The proposal was shot down by SeaWorld, and business went on as usual.

But PETA, which purchased shares in the company last year, has reintroduced the idea on the heels of the announcement of the company's CEO stepping down at the beginning of 2015.

See also: SeaWorld CEO Stepping Down Come January; PETA Responds

SeaWorld has spent the better part of a year trying to plow through mounting public criticism, plummeting stock, and corporate sponsors abandoning the premises like a perp fleeing the scene of a crime. And it's all due to the public awareness of its captive orcas brought upon by the popular documentary Blackfish.

SeaWorld has faced a barrage of negative publicity since the release of the documentary, which suggests the theme park treats its orcas poorly. The company objected to the film when it came out and denied the documentary would affect attendance.

Yet, in April of this year, SeaWorld reported 3.05 million people went through its parks' gates in the first three months of 2014, which was a 13 percent drop in attendance compared to the same period in 2013.

Earlier this month, CEO Jim Atchison announced that he's stepping down in January. The company followed the announcement by saying it was cutting jobs to save $50 million a year.

As it did in February, PETA says it has a solution that would not only benefit the whales but help SeaWorld get back in the public's good graces.

PETA says creating a sanctuary out in the ocean would be the best way to take SeaWorld's orcas out of the tanks they're forced to live and perform tricks in.

The orcas can be retired and rehabilitated in these pens, which, PETA says, can be used by the park as a sort of virtual-reality marine-mammal experience for attendees without making the orcas suffer.

"We're proposing SeaWorld develop these sanctuaries wherever it's best for the animals," PETA's director of animal law, Jared Goodman, tells New Times. "SeaWorld, as a global company, is in a position to do this and make this happen, if they choose to."

PETA proses that the pens, which could be built in the ocean, where SeaWorld's orcas can swim near and communicate with fellow orcas in the wild, would be a bigger draw than the animal-circus atmosphere the park has now. But these plans would go against SeaWorld's own inexplicable assessment that it keeps orcas in captivity to save them.

And when PETA first proposed the sanctuaries earlier this year to fellow stock holders, it was shot down by SeaWorld, which said that the animal advocacy group didn't have the authority to submit resolutions to other shareholders, even if it has the required shares to speak at annual meetings.

"They were able to exclude the proposal over a technicality," Goodman says.

The technicality was that PETA needs to hold its shareholder stock for at least a year before making such a proposal, per SEC regulations. But a year has come and gone, and PETA is ready to resubmit its proposal.

"PETA owns 159 shares, just over minimal requirement," Goodman says. "And we've submitted for proxy materials sent out before the shareholders' annual meeting."

Goodman says that PETA has yet to hear from SeaWorld on the proposal but that the group plans to move forward with it once the annual meeting is scheduled for sometime in early 2015.

As for the pens themselves, Goodman says that regulations would obviously have to be met but that they would propose sanctuaries close to orcas at their respective parks. For example, orcas in San Diego would be moved to pens in the Pacific.

"We'd like the pens to ideally be as close as possible to reduce the length of the move for the animals," Goodman says. "And we'd like them to be built as big as permitted. Permits would have to be sought, but we'd push for the largest pens that could be built."

In a response to the proposed ocean pens earlier this year, SeaWorld proposed its own larger tanks.

But those tanks are something of a joke.

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Chris Joseph
Contact: Chris Joseph