The CEO and president of SeaWorld ended his turbulent tenure atop the company on Thursday, citing the difficulties the company has faced in trying to compete with newer attractions like the Harry Potter theme park, the Orlando Sentinel reports.
Jim Atchison made no mention of the controversy that engulfed the company after the 2010 death of trainer Dawn Brancheau — an event that was featured in the film Blackfish, which also documented the horrifying living conditions of the theme park’s signature attractions, its orca or “killer” whales.
Since the release of the film, the value of SeaWorld stock has plummeted by nearly 50 percent, and attendance at its parks is dropped by nearly 5 percent per quarter.
In November, Atchison told SeaWorld shareholders that, “clearly, 2014 has failed to meet our expectations. The attendance trends our company experienced at the latter part of the second quarter continued into the third quarter…But we firmly believe our brands remain strong and are resilient to the challenges we are facing.”
One of those challenges came from the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA), which has been leading boycotts against the company that only intensified in the wake of Blackfish.
PETA Foundation Deputy General Counsel Delcianna Winders said of Atchison’s departure, “[p]ublic opinion has turned solidly against SeaWorld, and the park can’t turn back time. The only way to move is forward by finding someone who can take the park in an innovative new direction, one that PETA hopes will see animals released to coastal sanctuaries and new exhibits.”
The park has attempted to revive the public’s opinion by agreeing to double the size of its orca holding tanks and changing its marketing strategy by explicitly catering to Christian audiences.
Atchison’s resignation is effective January 15, 2015, but he will receive a $2.4 million payout and remain with the company as vice chairman and animal welfare consultant.