SeaWorld Reports 13 Percent Drop In Attendance Amid "Blackfish" Backlash

As controversy surrounding the treatment of orcas held in captivity at SeaWorld continues to mount following release of the documentary "Blackfish" last summer, latest figures show that fewer people are actually showing up to the marine theme parks. According to a new report released by SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., attendance at the parks was down 13 percent in the first quarter of this year, compared to the same period the year before.

In the first three months of 2014, SeaWord's eleven parks received 3.05 million visitors -- down from 3.5 million in 2013.

These attendance numbers were made public in a notice to the Securities and Exchange Commission that the Orlando-based theme park company was buying back 1.75 million shares from Blackstone Group LP, which has to reduced its stake in SeaWorld several times since purchasing it in 2009.

Despite this sharp drop in attendance, part of a downward trend in recent months, SeaWorld executives deny that outrage over their treatment of orcas is leading to the decline. Last month, with the release of its fourth quarter earning in 2013 showing a 4.1 percent dip in attendance compared to 2012, President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Atchison said that the film "Blackfish" was not to blame.

"We have seen no impact on the business," he told the Orlando Sentinel.

Regardless of this claim, increasing awareness of the consequences of keeping orcas in captivity continues to put SeaWorld on the defensive. Last month, California State Assemblyman Richard Bloom announced new legislation that would outlaw the theme park's main attraction -- orca shows -- saying that the animals were "too large and far too intelligent to be confined in small, concrete pens for their entire lives."

Yesterday, delegates from SeaWorld spoke to lawmakers in Sacramento insisting that orca shows were good thing for the orcas.

"They're a net benefit to the animals," said SeaWorld vice president of veterinary services.

Interestingly, that statement comes just days after newly obtained documents revealed that SeaWorld vets have been administering psychoactive anti-anxiety drugs, including Valium and Xanax, to maintain their mental stability -- which animal advocates argue is put in jeopardy by the stresses of captivity and being forced to perform.