SAN DIEGO – Amusement park operator SeaWorld has admitted that it carried on a practice in which employees posed as animal rights activists in order to spy on those groups.
The Orlando Sentinel reports that CEO Joel Manby made the admission during an earnings report conference call with stockholders. He read a statement that was later posted on the SeaWorld Cares blog.
“Following the completion of an investigation conducted by independent outside counsel, the Board has directed that the company’s management team end a practice in which certain employees posed as animal rights activists in connection with efforts to maintain the safety and security of company employees, customers, and animals in the face of credible threats that the company had received.”
According to the Sentinel, last year PETA accused SeaWorld San Diego of having an employee named Paul McComb pose as an activist. In the conference call, Manby admitted that McComb had spied for SeaWorld. He had been temporarily placed on leave, although now he was back working for the company.
“McComb remains an employee of SeaWorld, has returned to work at SeaWorld in a different department and is no longer on administrative leave,” Manby said.
Manby did not disclose how many other employees may have taken part in this practice.
SeaWorld has seen its attendance and earnings decline considerably since the release of the scathing 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which blasted SeaWorld for its treatment of orcas and started a movement, pressuring the park to release the killer whales.
In October, the California Coastal Commission approved a $100 million expansion of the tanks SeaWorld uses to hold killer whales, but it banned breeding of the captive orcas that would live in them. It was a death blow to the use of killer whales at the California ocean park.
PETA released the following statement Thursday:
SeaWorld's latest report confirms not only that the company has employed more than one spy to infiltrate and agitate at PETA but also that it values its spies more highly than the executives who have had their heads chopped off in droves, as at least one of the spies is still working at the company. SeaWorld's finances continue to flop as animals continue to be found dead in its tiny tanks, with one death every single month since November. If SeaWorld had business savvy or common sense, it would modernize its business with coastal sanctuaries and virtual reality displays instead of building more roller coasters and dolphin prisons. The tawdry orca sideshows and despicable spying tactics are sinking SeaWorld's ship.
Here is the full statement from SeaWorld:
During its earnings call today, SeaWorld announced that its Board of Directors is taking steps to strengthen the company’s security and risk management policies and controls. Following the completion of an investigation conducted by independent outside counsel, the Board has directed that the company’s management team end a practice in which certain employees posed as animal rights activists in connection with efforts to maintain the safety and security of company employees, customers, and animals in the face of credible threats that the company had received. The Board also has directed the company’s management team to strengthen oversight and controls to guide operations and security practices. SeaWorld has retained Freeh Group International Solutions, LLC to evaluate current controls and develop new policies and standards to ensure best practices company-wide.All personnel matters pertaining to those involved have been handled internally. That said, Mr. McComb remains an employee of SeaWorld, has returned to work at SeaWorld in a different department and is no longer on administrative leave.“We recognize the need to ensure that all of our security and other activities align with our core values and ethical standards. As always, the security and well-being of our employees, customers and animals remain at the forefront of our business practices,” said Joel Manby, President and Chief Executive Officer of SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.The report contains confidential business information related to the company’s security practices. The company will not comment beyond this statement.