SeaWorld Entertainment, the parent of Tampa's Busch Gardens, saw its shares plummet more than 33 percent by Wednesday afternoon, dropping to a record low after reporting lower-than-estimated earnings and saying controversy over treatment of captive whales in its theme-park shows hurt attendance.
Shares fell as low as $18.72, the lowest since they started trading in April 2013. Before today's decline, the stock had dipped 23 percent in a year following last year's release of "Blackfish," an anti-SeaWorld documentary which chronicles the life of a killer whale named Tilikum. Before the film's controversy, SeaWorld sold shares at $27 each in its April 2013 IPO.
"The company believes attendance in the quarter was impacted by demand pressures related to recent media attention surrounding proposed legislation" – to ban killer whales in captivity – "in the state of California," Orlando-based SeaWorld said in a statement.
Sales fell 1.5 percent to $405.2 million in the second quarter, the company said, short of $445.2 million anticipated by analysts. SeaWorld expects revenue to decline as much 7 percent in 2014.
In response to the slowdown, SeaWorld CEO Jim Atchison told analysts on a conference call today that the company has hired an adviser to identify cost cuts this year and next. The money saved will be used to reinvest in new attractions and to increase stock buybacks.