SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. unveiled a $10-million advocacy campaign intended to blunt criticism of its whale shows and reverse a two-year drop in attendance.
Print ads and online videos will feature veterinarians, researchers and others from the company's 1,500 animal-care experts, according to an e-mailed statement Monday from the Orlando, Fla.-based theme-park operator. They will explain how the company cares for its killer whales, while also refuting the claims of animal-rights activists, SeaWorld said.
SeaWorld is fighting back against critics including People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals who say the company shouldn't keep killer whales in captivity. It's combining the advocacy campaign with a conventional advertising effort begun last week that focuses on park attractions.
"There's been a lot of misinformation and even lies spread about SeaWorld, and we recognize that it has caused some people to have questions about the welfare of killer whales in human care," David D'Alessandro, chairman and interim chief executive officer, said in the statement. "This long-term campaign will address those questions head on."
One video posted by SeaWorld rebuts claims by PETA that whales live shorter lives in captivity than in the wild.
"It's absolutely not true," Chris Dold, head veterinarian at the SeaWorld Park in Orlando, said in the clip.
The short video takes viewers behind the scenes at the park, showing trainers and other animal-care workers monitoring the whales' weight and growth, and checking blood samples to catch illnesses early.
"I'm a veterinarian and just like doctors we veterinarians take an oath," said Mr. Dold, who narrated the segment. "I wouldn't work here if I wasn't able to give whales the first-class care they deserve."
SeaWorld is spending $10-million on print, TV and digital, according to Jill Kermes, a spokeswoman. Print ads will run in national and local newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and Sacramento Bee. That's designed to reach California legislators who debated and then shelved a bill that would ban keeping whales in captivity.
"This is really about having an equal voice in the conversation," Ms. Kermes said in an interview. PETA puts out news release about SeaWorld almost every week, she said.
The company last week also named veteran entertainment executive Joel Manby to succeed former CEO Jim Atchison, who stepped down in December. Mr. Manby takes over April 7.
SeaWorld's stock rose 0.6 per cent to $20.21 (U.S.) at the close Monday in New York. The stock has gained 13 per cent this year.
The 2013 documentary Blackfish, about the death of a SeaWorld trainer, raised issues about the care of orcas in captivity and their use in entertainment. The picture was shown in theatres and aired multiple times on CNN.
Ms. Kermes said CNN would be among the networks carrying the company's ads.
Since the film's release, entertainers such as Willie Nelson have cancelled park appearances and marketing partners including Southwest Airlines Co. have ended their relationships. This month, Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, the 145-year-old circus, said it will remove elephants from its acts to focus on conservation programs.
In February, SeaWorld posted a fourth-quarter loss that exceeded analysts' estimates. Visitors shrank to 4.4 million visitors from 4.5 million a year earlier, SeaWorld said. The company owns 11 theme parks in the United States.