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Fewer people are visiting SeaWorld — is "Blackfish" the reason?

Tilikum, a SeaWorld killer whale that's at the center of the park's recent controversy.
Tilikum, a SeaWorld killer whale that's at the center of the park's recent controversy.
Photo by Gerardo Mora/Getty Images

Thirteen percent fewer people are visiting SeaWorld this spring than last year.

The SeaWorld Entertainment company — which operates parks in Florida, California, and Texas — just released its first quarter earnings, and revealed that its revenues dropped 11 percent in 2014, going from $238.6 million to $212.3 million.

A big part of this decrease was driven by the striking decrease in attendance. Through the end of March, 3.05 million people visited the parks, compared to 3.5 million during the same period in 2013.

What's the reason for the decline? One possibility is the documentary Blackfish, which came out and led to a heavy amount of negative publicity for SeaWorld in 2013.

Blackfish has led to a backlash

The film covered SeaWorld's treatment of its killer whales — especially one named Tilikum, in residence at the Orlando park. During the years since his 1983 capture, the whale has been involved in the deaths of three trainers, and the film alleged that keeping whales in captivity is unhealthy, and has led to unnatural levels of aggressiveness.

The film, which included several former employees, also noted that whales in captivity at SeaWorld live significantly shorter lives than those in the wild.

While SeaWorld argued that its whales' lifespans of 30-50 years are similar to wild whales, many wild whales have been known to live decades longer — a discrepancy highlighted by the recent spotting of a 103-year-old whale off the coast of Vancouver Island earlier this week.

All in all, the film has generated a lot of anti-SeaWorld sentiment. CNN estimates that 21 million people watched it when it aired on the channel in October, and over 130,000 people have signed a petition urging SeaWorld to release Tilikum into the wild. Since, protestors have picketed the parks and prominent musicians have pulled out of an annual SeaWorld festival.

Given this sort of attention, it wouldn't be a big surprise to see a dip in attendance. Company are saying that they expected the drop, and attribute it to the fact that Easter — and many school districts' spring breaks — fell in the second quarter this year.

But this seems to be part of a trend. Ever since Blackfish's US release in July, SeaWorld attendance has fallen consistently: 3.6 percent and 4.1 percent in quarters three and four of 2013. Many are speculating that Blackfish is the reason.