In the face of dwindling popularity and slashed profits, SeaWorld really isn’t doing itself any favors. The controversial company admitted Thursday that some of its employees had been posing as animal rights activists in order to spy on opponents and gain inside information.
Following an external investigation, the animal park said in a statement that the practice, which was conducted in order to “maintain the safety and security of company employees, customers, and animals in the face of credible threats that the company had received,” will now cease.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, accusations of such activity first arose back in 2014, when People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) became suspicious of the behavior of one of the organization’s employees, Paul McComb. PETA alleged that McComb had been masquerading as an activist called Thomas Jones in order to infiltrate protest groups. Despite being arrested during a parade in Pasadena, California, McComb managed to dodge charges that were pressed on others.
McComb also had a Twitter account, under the alias of Thomas Jones, in which he posted various anti-SeaWorld tweets, inciting aggressive protests and action against the park. In one post, “Jones” encouraged others to join him in draining the park’s newly-built tanks in 2018.
— Thomas Jones (@ThomasJ49711178) July 3, 2014
Following the “concerning” allegations, last July SeaWorld took it upon itself to launch an investigation by an independent outside firm, during which time the organization said it would place McComb on paid administrative leave. Although SeaWorld said at the time that such behavior would “not be tolerated,” now the investigation has drawn to a close the company has decided to continue McComb’s employment, although he has been transferred to a different department.
Needless to say, PETA is not impressed with the situation and has condemned the activity: “SeaWorld’s corporate espionage campaign tried to coerce kind people into setting SeaWorld on fire or draining its tanks, which would have hurt the animals, in an attempt to distract from its cruelty and keep PETA from exposing the miserable lives of the animals it imprisons,” PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman said in a statement.
This news will likely only drive SeaWorld’s foot further into the grave. The company fell grossly out of favor following the telling documentary "Blackfish" that exposed poor treatment and negligence that not only put the animals at risk but also the lives of trainers. According to the documentary one orca, Tilikum, has been accused of killing three people.
Public disgust and intolerance of cruelty is clearly reflected in SeaWorld’s steadily decreasing earnings. While they still rolled over $1.37 billion in revenue last year, they faced a $6.8 million fall in sales compared with the previous year, concomitant with a drop in attendance and increasing public pressure to free the animals. While captive breeding is still permitted in certain states, SeaWorld has at least announced that it is to bring an end to its orca shows, replacing them with an educational experience that is more true to life.