SeaWorld Admits It Infiltrated an Animal Rights Group

The company’s board has ordered employees to stop posing as activists to obtain information on groups like PETA.
(Photo: Hubert Yu/Flickr)
Feb 25, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Alex Reed is an editorial intern at TakePart and a senior at the University of Southern California.

SeaWorld has found itself in hot water again.

On Thursday, SeaWorld chief executive Joel Manby told investors the theme park operator had employees pose as activists to infiltrate People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals.

This admission comes months after PETA accused SeaWorld employee Paul McComb of working for the animal rights group under the alias Thomas Jones. PETA claimed McComb attended anti-SeaWorld meetings and protests, asked for insider secrets from other protesters, and encouraged aggressive and illegal tactics during demonstrations.

At the time, SeaWorld officials denied the claims but put McComb put on temporary leave. He has since returned to the company, according to Manby.

“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,” SeaWorld said in a statement issued after Manby discussed the issue with investors during a conference call Thursday.

The move didn’t placate PETA. “If SeaWorld had business savvy or common sense, it would modernize its business with coastal sanctuaries and virtual reality displays instead of building more dolphin prisons,” the organization said in a statement.

RELATED: Former SeaWorld Trainer Reveals Mistreatment of Killer Whales

Manby has worked to reshape the SeaWorld image since he took over as chief executive last April. The company is still recovering from the fallout from the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which focused on mistreatment of captive killer whales at SeaWorld parks. Manby has ordered an end to orca shows at SeaWorld San Diego and approved the construction of exhibits and rides to increase park attendance.

Though SeaWorld’s 2015 revenue rose to $268 million—up 1 percent from the previous year—net income was down 1.6 percent to $49 million.

PETA suggested SeaWorld address larger problems. Since November, an animal has died every month at the company’s San Antonio park.