SeaWorld (SEAS:US) gets to keeps its killer whales in San Diego for at least another year.
A California legislative panel today put off action on a proposed ban on captive orcas, choosing to study the matter. SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., owner of the namesake theme parks, said it would seek damages if the measure is enacted. The shares rose the most since January.
“If you ban them, you buy them,” said Scott Wetch, a lobbyist for SeaWorld, which is based in Orlando, Florida.
The legislation, if enacted, would force the company to close its signature show in San Diego, one of three company parks in the U.S. with performing killer whales. The measure was spawned by a CNN documentary that criticized the treatment of the whales in captivity.
SeaWorld rose (SEAS:US) 5.4 percent to $30.90 at the close in New York, the biggest one-day gain since January. The stock has advanced 7.4 percent this year. Blackstone Group LP (BX:US), which purchased the company in 2009, is the largest shareholder (SEAS:US).
Anthony Rendon, a Democrat from Lakewood who chairs the Assembly Water, Parks and Wildlife Committee, said the panel’s study will delay a vote until mid-2015. Interested parties will be invited to participate in public hearings on the matter. Rendon said he supports the ban.
Assemblyman Richard Bloom, a Democrat from Santa Monica, proposed the ban last month. The bill would end whale breeding in the state and their use in entertainment. Those in captivity would have to be released or kept in an ocean enclosure.
Putting the whales in a sea pen would “lead to almost certain death,” Wetch testified today. The company will move its animals from San Diego if the measure is enacted, he said.
SeaWorld would view the ban as the taking of its property and would seek hundreds of millions of dollars in restitution from the state, Wetch said.
“Today’s hearing brought to light the many policy problems with AB2140, and we commend the committee for deciding to take the time to learn more,” John Reilly, president of SeaWorld San Diego, said in an e-mailed statement. “The science and facts make clear that there is absolutely no justification for this legislation.”
SeaWorld has faced criticism over its use of killer whales in shows, highlighted by the 2013 CNN documentary “Blackfish” about the 2010 death of a trainer at the company’s Orlando, Florida, park. A number of musicians scheduled to perform at its parks this year canceled in protest. The attention hasn’t hurt attendance, SeaWorld has said.
SeaWorld has 29 orcas in its parks out of about 50 held in captivity worldwide, Christopher Dold, the company’s vice president of veterinary services, told the panel. He said there were 50,000 to 100,000 in the wild.
Several dozen people, some identifying themselves as animal activists, said they favor the legislation. Those opposing the bill included representatives of the California Association of Zoos & Aquariums and the California Retailers Association.
Blackstone, the New York-based private equity firm, bought the theme-park operator from Anheuser-Busch InBev NV for $2.3 billion. It has been reducing its stake since a public offering of SeaWorld shares last year.
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