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SeaWorld Quietly Makes a Comeback

Five years after it faced a franchise-threatening PR disaster, SeaWorld is finally rebounding from the fallout from the Blackfish documentary film.

Attendance at the parks was up 4.8% in the second quarter, with roughly 300,000 additional guests, compared to the same time period in 2017. And park officials say they saw an extra 900,000 guests in July compared to the prior year. Those gains come after attendance was up 15% in the first quarter.

Year to date, attendance is up by roughly 700,000, an 8% increase, to 9.6 million guests.

SeaWorld has undergone a number of changes—including phasing out theatrical orca shows and its orca breeding program—since the documentary that sharply criticized the park for its treatment of the whales and other sea creatures. Most notably, in February, CEO Joel Manby resigned after failing to turn the company’s stock around. (When he left, it was down 16% in the prior 12 months and was below its low point during the Blackfish scandal.)

Two quarters of growth, though, has helped the stock rebound. Shares were up more than 5% in early trading Tuesday, hitting their highest point since 2014.

Price adjustments helped drive the attendance surge, but perhaps more significantly, season pass sales saw double-digit increases last quarter, meaning people are planning to return to the park regularly.

The attendance uptick doesn’t mean the park is out of hot water, yet, though. Interim CEO John Reilly said the company, which has 12 locations around the world, has reached its goal of cutting costs by $40 million, but it now plans to trim another $50 million in expenses. Reilly did not offer details on how it would do this.