SeaWorld names Joel Manby of theme park and attractions operator Herschend as its new CEO

Industries Associated Press

SeaWorld said Thursday that Joel Manby will become its new president and CEO on April 7.

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Since 2003, Manby has been president and CEO of Herschend Family Entertainment, which owns the Harlem Globetrotters, Dolly Parton's Dollywood theme park, and a variety of other attractions. SeaWorld said Manby, 55, will also join its board of directors.

Herschend says it is the largest family-owned themed attractions operator in the U.S. It has 26 locations in 10 states, including theme parks, aquariums, lodging and sightseeing tours. It bought the Globetrotters in 2013. SeaWorld said Herschend has 14 million visitors a year.

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. has reported weak attendance at its theme parks since the recession. It has also it has been battling negative publicity related to care of its animals since the release of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which suggests the captivity of killer whales may have led to the death of a trainer.

In December, CEO Jim Atchison announced he was stepping down as head of the Orlando, Florida, company. Chairman David D'Alessandro has been acting CEO since then. SeaWorld is also cutting jobs with the aim of saving $50 million a year and has reshuffled management at several parks.

Attendance at SeaWorld's parks fell about 4 percent in 2014, and revenue fell almost 6 percent.

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The naming of the new CEO cheered investors. Shares of SeaWorld rose 69 cents, or 3.6 percent, to $19.80 in aftermarket trading.

Through the close of regular-session trading Thursday, the stock had fallen 41 percent over the last 12 months.