SeaWorld attendance low, shares inch higher

In this April 10, 2014 photo, SeaWorld trainer Ryan Faulkner, left, with killer whale Melia, and Michelle Shoemaker, right, with Kayla work on a routine for a show at the Orlando, Fla. theme park. SeaWorld suffered a decline in attendance during its most recent quarter, the company reported Thursday, Aug. 6, 2015, as the amusement park operator struggled to restore its image amid a withering public campaign by animal activists. (AP Photo/John Raoux, File)

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — SeaWorld says its theme park attendance is still falling as animal activists protest the company’s treatment of whales, but its shares edged higher after the company maintained its projections for the year.

The company has been trying to recover from the 2013 documentary film “Blackfish” that suggested the treatment of captive orcas provokes violent behavior. Park attendance dropped after the release of the documentary and the company’s stock has fallen 50 percent over the last two years. SeaWorld also cut prices to lure more people to its parks, and that has cut into the revenue it books per visitor.

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. runs 11 theme parks, including three SeaWorld locations. Its second-quarter profit and revenue both fell short of analyst estimates as it spent more money on a marketing campaign intended to counter the bad publicity and said attendance fell around 2 percent. On top of the hit to its reputation, SeaWorld said heavy rain in Texas and the earlier Eastern holiday hurt attendance at its parks.

Despite the disappointing results, the company repeated its guidance for earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization, a measure of how profitable a company’s operations are.

Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. added 51 cents, or 2.9 percent, to $17.91 in midday trading.

The company says it has a lot of work to do to improve its attendance. According to SeaWorld, its original location in San Diego is having the toughest time. Legislators in California have proposed banning performances featuring orcas, and that’s kept the controversy over their treatment in the news. It says its Florida parks are doing better, but has suggested the biggest problem facing those locations is tough competition, not the “Blackfish” film.

The Themed Entertainment Association says attendance at Universal Studios, Busch Gardens in Tampa and Disney’s Magic Kingdom all improved last year while SeaWorld Orlando attendance fell 8 percent. SeaWorld said those numbers were only estimates and not as reliable as its own figures, but it said overall attendance overall fell 4 percent for the year.

President and CEO Joel Manby has said other Orlando theme parks have done a better job of adding exciting attractions. In May the company said it will open new roller coasters at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa in 2016.

The company reported a second-quarter profit of $5.8 million, or 7 cents per share, down from $37.4 million a year earlier. Excluding one-time costs and gains, SeaWorld said it earned 22 cents per share.

Zacks Investment Research says analysts expected 40 cents per share.

Revenue fell to $391.6 million, below analyst estimates of $397 million.

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