SeaWorld attendance surges after ‘Blackfish’ documentary scandal

SeaWorld shares surged more than 19% in trading Monday as the aquatic theme park operator showed signs its business has recovered from the 2013 “Blackfish” documentary scandal.

Attendance at SeaWorld Parks rose nearly 5% to 6.4 million visitors, marking the second straight quarter that attendance has risen after years of declines. Revenue rose 4.9% to $392 million in the company’s second fiscal quarter, while adjusted earnings were 34 cents against a loss in the same period one year ago.

SeaWorld has attempted to revamp its image after the “Blackfish” documentary outlined the negative effects killer whales experienced in captivity, with a focus on an orca named Tilikum that killed a park trainer in 2010. The company implemented new pricing systems and shows which aimed to demonstrate the strides it has taken to allay concerns about its treatment of wildlife.

"The results were driven by our new strategic pricing strategies, new marketing and communications initiatives and the positive reception of our new rides, attractions and events,” said John Reilly, SeaWorld’s interim CEO.

Recent results marked a major turnaround for SeaWorld, which saw attendance reach a low in 2017 amid a lengthy public backlash related to the documentary. The company said last year that it would no longer breed killer whales or use them in shows.

The company said it plans to invest $150 million annually in new attractions at its parks. SeaWorld’s stock is up more than 75% so far this year.

SeaWorld Entertainment also operates Busch Gardens parks, as well as the Sesame Place amusement park in Pennsylvania.