Like a captive orca crashing down into the waters of its bathtub prison, shares of SeaWorld Entertainment are plunging today after the theme park operator delivered a dreadful earnings report. Although attendance was up slightly this quarter compared with a year ago, it has fallen 4.3 percent over the full first six months of the year. Revenue is also down about 5 percent over the first half of 2014; the company predicts that revenue will fall 6 to 7 percent by the time the year is out. As of writing, the stock has dropped about 30 percent, or $8 and change.
SeaWorld Entertainment runs 11 theme parks, not all of which make their money by training enormous aquatic predators to do tricks for sedentary Americans on family vacations. The company believes attendance has dropped overall partly for boring reasons like a late start to summer vacation in a few markets and new attractions at its competitors. But SeaWorld’s namesake parks have been dogged by controversy ever since the release of the documentary Blackfish, which spotlights their deeply troubling treatment of killer whales. And SeaWorld corporate clearly thinks the PR troubles are costing them. In its earnings release, the company says it’s pretty sure some visitors stayed away this quarter due to “media attention” surrounding a bill in California’s state Legislature that would ban orca shows at theme park. In other words, people are finally taking a hard look at SeaWorld's business, and it's making them seasick.
*Correction, Aug. 13, 2014: The photo caption in this post originally described the image incorrectly. The guests are looking at a dispaly of orca models, not live whales.