Protesters take aim at SeaWorld's coporate partners days after park is accused of ballot stuffing

Park IP addresses linked to online votes

SAN DIEGO - There is more potential fallout for SeaWorld from the documentary "Blackfish," as animal advocates have begun targeting SeaWorld's corporate partners.

A protest is planned for Wednesday at the headquarters of a major airline, even as SeaWorld feels the heat from another incident.

Since the release of "Blackfish" this fall, there has been a series of public relations black eyes for the image of SeaWorld.

Amid online petitions, performers Martina McBride, Willie Nelson, Trisha Yearwood and four others canceled concerts at SeaWorld. Another petition was aimed at marketing partner Southwest Airlines.

SeaWorld has fought back, including taking out full-page ads in major newspapers, but critics call another headline-grabbing incident a misstep.

Erik Bruvold, an economist at the National University System Institute for Policy Research, said, "They probably could have managed this better."

A week ago, the Orlando Business Journal put up an unscientific poll posing the question: "Has Blackfish changed your perception of SeaWorld?"

Two days later, the vote was 99 percent in favor of SeaWorld.

However, the Journal checked and 54 percent of the votes were coming from SeaWorld's IP addresses.

Bruvold said it doesn't look right.

"It supports the claims made in 'Blackfish' that's there's something nefarious and beyond the happy show," said Bruvold.

In the past few days, the poll has reversed, with 84 percent now saying "Blackfish" changed their perception.

Still, Bruvold is skeptical the film will ultimately impact the park's bottom line. He said the key indicator might be attendance numbers during the upcoming summer season.

SeaWorld's most recent attendance numbers were down slightly, but SeaWorld pointed to a rise in ticket prices as the cause, which bumped up revenues.

On Wednesday, a petition with 27,000 signatures will be presented to Southwest Airlines executives, calling for an end its partnership with SeaWorld.
In response to the poll controversy, Fred Jacobs, SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment vice president of communications, issued this statement:

"SeaWorld Entertainment is headquartered in Orlando and we have three parks there. We have five parks in Central Florida, which means thousands and thousands of our people live and work there. Yes, a few hundred of our employees voted in the Orlando Business Journal poll and many did so from computers and other devices that use our (SeaWorld) servers. I have absolutely no idea why anyone considers this a big deal. When the poll appeared a lot of people got a Google Alert, including me, and a few hundred people voted in support of their company. It is no more mysterious than that."

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