SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. said Jim Atchison will depart as chief executive, and the theme-park operator unveiled a restructuring plan that comes as it has faced controversy over its treatment of killer whales.
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Chairman David D'Alessandro will serve as interim chief executive until the company finds a permanent successor. Mr. Atchison, meanwhile, will become vice chairman of the board.
SeaWorld said it had hired an executive search firm and expects to appoint a new CEO in six to nine months.
The company said its restructuring program is aimed at saving about $50 million a year, and it will result in job cuts, though SeaWorld didn't outline how many jobs would be affected.
The theme-park operator unveiled plans in August to upgrade its killer-whale tanks at three locations in a bid to quell protests and possible legislative action over concerns about alleged psychological and physical harm to the animals. Animal-rights groups, spurred on by the documentary "Blackfish," have pushed their argument against SeaWorld into the mainstream conversation, and the rancor started to weigh on the company's theme-park attendance.
Shares closed Thursday at $16.09 and are down 44% for the year.