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PETA isn’t happy about SeaWorld’s online-only shareholder meeting

Some aquariums scaling back amid controversySome aquariums scaling back amid controversy

SeaWorld, which has spent much of the past few years dealing with bad publicity and falling attendance, held its annual meeting Wednesday, and shareholders were able to voice their opinion about just what is happening with the company.

The Florida-based theme park company held its meeting online only, which means that attendees can still ask questions, but they have to do so using a computer.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) planned to confront SeaWorld (SEAS) during the annual meeting using surfing champion Kelly Slater as its proxy. Slater planned to submit a question on behalf of PETA — which owns stock in the company — but the group says its question wouldn’t go through.

“The forum was not accepting it,” said David Perle, PETA’s senior media director. “I know that others were accepted.”

PETA has been known to buy shares in companies whose activities it disagrees with as a way to get a platform for speaking directly to the company’s leadership, and indirectly, to consumers.

SeaWorld said they never received Slater’s question, but that the planned online Q&A was working fine.

This issue could speak to one of the problems with online shareholders meetings. The Orlando Sentinel noted this week that web-based shareholder meetings are becoming increasingly popular, as they save costs and broaden attendance. Critics, however, say they “shelter companies’ executives from controversy and rob shareholders of face-to-face interaction with them,” the newspaper said.

“Face time is still important,” Amy Borrus, deputy director of the Council for Institutional Investors, told the paper. “Investors should have the opportunity once a year to look the CEO and board members in the eye.”

PETA has used the celebrity proxy tactic with SeaWorld before. Last year — in another online forum — actress Jessica Biel read a statement, which went through with no trouble.

SeaWorld has had a bad few years, with park attendance down and the company’s reputation taking a beating due to the controversial anti-SeaWorld documentary Blackfish.