Legoland Looks To Make Bid For SeaWorld

Merlin Entertainments Plc has approached SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. about a potential deal, according to people familiar with the matter, as the U.K. theme-park operator seeks to expand in Central Florida.

Merlin, which runs the Thorpe Park Resort in southern England and Legoland parks across the world, has made a bid for part of the company, which could be a hurdle as SeaWorld prefers an outright sale, the people said. SeaWorld, which has been working with advisers to explore options including a sale, also received interest from other possible suitors, the people said, asking not to be identified as the details aren’t public.

The offer comes as SeaWorld Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby struggles to stem declines in sales and the stock price of the Orlando-based park owner once famous for its killer whales. For Merlin, a deal by the operator of the London Eye and Madame Tussauds waxworks would mark a continuation of its strategy to expand internationally to cope with a drop in day-trippers to the British capital following terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.

SeaWorld could raise as much as $1 billion from selling regional parks like Busch Gardens, getting funding to invest in its core aquatic-themed locations, Suntrust analyst Michael Swartz said in August. Busch Gardens has locations in Tampa, Florida, and Williamsburg, Virginia.

More than two years into an attempted turnaround of the company, the shares of the theme park operator have fallen 25 percent this year, amid shrinking attendance and missed earnings forecasts.

The park owner came under fire in the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which accused the company of mistreating its killer whales. Under Manby, SeaWorld stopped breeding orcas, created a new show in its San Diego park with animals performing more natural behaviors, and invested in non-animal attractions, such as roller coasters and ocean-themed rides.

Blackstone, the world’s largest buyout firm, took SeaWorld public in 2013 after acquiring it four years earlier for $2.3 billion. Blackstone sold its final block of shares this year, cementing a return of about 2.7 times its original investment. Blackstone also owned Merlin in the past. The private equity firm acquired the entertainment company in 2005, bolstered it with acquisitions, sold a stake to CVC Capital Partners in 2010 and exited its final position in 2015.

The Internet Mourns Tilikum, The Orca Subject Of The SeaWorld ‘Blackfish’ Documentary

Tilikum, the orca featured in the 2013 SeaWorld documentary Blackfish, died Friday morning. The 36-year-old orca had been suffering from a “persistent and complicated bacterial lung infection” since March of last year, although an exact cause of death has yet to be determined. The park stated that Tilikum died surrounded by trainers, care staff and veterinarians.

The film focused on Tilikum to document the abuse and consequences of keeping these animals in captivity, as the orca, captured in 1983 off the coast of Iceland, had been responsibly for three human deaths — most recently his trainer Dawn Brancheau in SeaWorld Orlando in 2010. The response to the film resulted in a huge backlash to SeaWorld, with many celebrities and musicians calling for a boycott of the theme park.

Joel Manby, the President and CEO of SeaWorld, released a statement Friday expressing his condolences on the famous orca’s passing, saying: “Tilikum had, and will continue to have, a special place in the hearts of the SeaWorld family, as well as the millions of people all over the world that he inspired. My heart goes out to our team who cared for him like family.”

PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, are naturally not buying SeaWorld’s words of consolation, and were quick to remind everyone of the decades of suffering Tilikum experienced prior to his death.

Suffice to say, many others echoed a similar sentiment, as an outpouring of support for Tilikum and anger towards SeaWorld surfaced on Twitter.

R.I.P., Tilikum. It’s with any hope that his life and subsequent death will have an effect on the way these magnificent creatures are treated by humans in future generations.

SeaWorld Awards $5,000 Scholarships to Florida Students

SeaWorld Orlando announced today that they have awarded $5,000 scholarships to students throughout Florida as part of their 2016 Environmental Scholarship Program. The students were awarded their scholarships at SeaWorld Orlando this past Friday before heading into the park with their families to celebrate.

The scholarship opportunity was made available to Florida high school seniors with a GPA of 3.0 or higher. The winning students demonstrated their passion for animals and the environment through a written application and a short video highlighting their environmental achievements and goals.

The applications were evaluated by representatives of SeaWorld’s Education & Conservation Department. Judges considered originality, creativity, content, organization, neatness and the general presentation of the application.

While at SeaWorld Orlando, the students and their families were treated to lunch, taken on an in-depth behind-the-scenes tour with members of the SeaWorld education and zoological team, a meet and greet with a sea lion after a showing of Clyde & Seamore’s Sea Lion High and a front row ride on Mako, Orlando’s tallest, fastest and longest coaster. The scholarship recipients also received four SeaWorld Orlando Annual Passes and a tablet to bring with them to college this fall.

Stay tuned after the break for a list of students that received scholarships and links to their submission videos.

2016 Environmental Scholarship Award Winners

· Christen Aniel from Mandarin High School (Jacksonville) – Christen Aniel has applied her passion for coral reefs to a school project that uses left over concrete from construction companies and creates artificial reefs for marine life to thrive once again on her local Jacksonville coastline.

View Christen’s submission here.

· Gabriela Gonzalez from Charles W. Flanagan High School (Pembroke Pines)- Gabriela Gonzalez spends her time as a vet technician in Pembroke Pines while managing several foundations and organizations focusing on animals in need.

View Gabriela’s submission here.

· Margaret K. Parrish from Chamberlain High School (Tampa)- Margaret Parrish designed and constructed a low-cost, portable water test kit that looks for certain bacteria in potential drinking water.

View Margaret’s submission here.

· Connor Wong from Edgewood Jr. Sr. High School (Merritt Island)- Connor Wong brought his ideas to life, literally, by growing mangroves in his own backyard and planting them, in turn contributing to reforesting the Indian River Lagoon.

View Connor’s submission here.

SeaWorld and Guy Harvey team up for Shark Conservation

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment and Guy Harvey are teaming up to promote ocean health and the plight of sharks in the wild.  The partnership between the two will help raise awareness of these important issues, and collaborate on science and research to increase understanding of how to better protect these critical predators and their habitats.

“SeaWorld is committed to raising awareness of the plight of sharks in the wild and the oceans they live in. As part of our commitment that we made in March of this year, we will put meaningful dollars, research and man hours towards reducing this troubling trend,” Joel Manby, President and CEO of SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment said. “The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation and Guy Harvey Research Institute have been front and center in this effort for years, and we are proud to open a new chapter in those efforts today.”

Members of SeaWorld’s animal care team recently joined a Guy Harvey Research Institute shark tagging expedition off the coast of Mexico, tagging six Mako sharks over the course of four days. Those tagged sharks will be followed by students and researchers at Guy Harvey’s Institute at Nova Southeastern University, and can be viewed by the public online at www.GHRItracking.org.

SeaWorld’s latest roller coaster, Mako, will also be getting in on the action.  In the queue lines for the new coaster, guests will be educated and entertained through digital platforms that provide access to the real science of sharks in the wild and ways they can help protect them with Guy Harvey himself as the host.

Guy Harvey will also commission an array of exclusive paintings and apparel, which will be available only at SeaWorld. SeaWorld will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of such items directly to the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.

SeaWorld Ending Signature Killer Whale “Shamu” Shows; Will Stop Breeding Orcas

For decades, SeaWorld parks have been associated with the visual of orca killer whales — most famously Shamu — jumping into the air for the amusement of large audiences. But amid growing criticism about the treatment of these animals and the safety of their trainers, SeaWorld has committed to not only ending these shows, but to also cease breeding orcas in captivity.

SeaWorld’s flagship park in San Diego had previously announced that it would phase out the theatrical killer whale shows in favor of an orca exhibit that was more educational about the animal.

Today, in a joint statement with the Humane Society of the United States, SeaWorld officially commits to ending these shows at all parks, and to end its practice of breeding the whales.

The orcas that are already at SeaWorld parks will continue to live out their lives there, though they will be the last of the orcas in captivity at the world-famous tourist attractions.

SeaWorld and the orca shows have been heavily criticized in recent years, especially in the wake of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which chronicles the alleged mistreatment of orcas and apparent lapses in safety for their trainers.

The documentary looked at the death of SeaWorld Orlando trainer Dawn Brancheau, who was killed in front of park visitors when an orca named Tilikum pulled her into the water and kept her under during a performance.

The company has been trying to repair its tarnished public image ever since, launching a campaign called “Ask SeaWorld” and pledging to spend $10 million on orca research and expand the whale environment at the park, among other things.

Although SeaWorld has said it beefed up safety measures for its workers, in May 2015, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration in California cited SeaWorld San Diego for not properly protecting employees.

SeaWorld Killer Whale Tilikum Diagnosed with ‘Incurable Lung Infection’

Tilikum, the world’s largest captive marine mammal, is nearing the end of his life.

According to SeaWorld officials, the 35-year-old, 12,000-pound killer whale has been diagnosed with an incurable bacterial infection in his lungs and has become increasingly lethargic.

“It has been our duty and passion to make sure we give him the utmost care we possibly can,” Daniel Richardville, an animal training supervisor, said in a statement on SeaWorld’s website.

Tilikum was the focus of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which highlighted his deadly history and the controversy surrounding keeping killer whales in captivity. Since 1991, the bull orca has been responsible for three deaths, including SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

According to activists, Tilikum’s severe confinement to a “small concrete tank” over the last several decades likely contributed to his violent tendencies.

“The constant stress and deprivation have driven him to kill three human beings and to wear his teeth to the nubs from chewing on the underwater bars of his prison,” People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) said in a statement. “Since SeaWorld can no longer capture orcas from the wild, it has used Tilikum as its chief breeding machine, churning out more performers for a miserable life that no one would ever willingly choose.”

Reaction on social media has been predictably sympathetic to Tilikum’s plight, with many shaming SeaWorld for denying the killer whale his chance at freedom.

News of Tilikum’s declining health comes as SeaWorld is facing increasing legal and public pressures to end its captive whale program and release its orcas to sea pens. In Orlando, one activist is currently in the middle of a month-long protest outside the Miami Seaquarium, spending her days in a bathtub to highlight the plight of Lolita, the “world’s loneliest orca.”

“By embarking on this challenge, I will experience the same feelings of captivity, separation from my family, boredom and stress that Lolita endures every day,” Danielle Daals said earlier this year. “I don’t believe anything like this has ever been done before, and I’m hoping it will bring worldwide attention to Lolita’s suffering.”

As for Tilikum, SeaWorld officials say they will continue to monitor his illness “in a way that makes him comfortable and creates an enriching life.”

The irony of those last two words when talking about a whale that has been stuck in captivity the last 30 years should be lost on no one.

New Year Equals New Deals at SeaWorld Parks Throughout Florida

Visitors and Florida residents can now choose from a variety of new admission products for the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens family of parks that provide more value and flexibility.

For tourists visiting Florida, the NEW “Choose Your Adventure” ticket option simplifies vacation planning so guests can enjoy multiple visits to all four parks in Florida. The program allows guests to customize their ideal itinerary and receive substantial savings for each additional park or visit — the more they visit, the more they save.

Guests can create their own favorite theme park adventure across the following four parks: SeaWorld Orlando, Busch Gardens Tampa Bay, Aquatica Orlando and Adventure Island Tampa Bay.

For example, when tickets are purchased in advance, online, special prices are as low as:
· One visit to any park – $79

· Two visits to any of the parks – $99

· Three visits to any of the parks – $109

· The new Length-of-Stay ticket provides 14 consecutive days of unlimited adventure to all four of the popular Florida theme parks, along with free parking at each, for one low price of $139.

2016 is going to be an exciting year with the addition of Mako, Orlando’s tallest , fastest and longest roller coaster at SeaWorld Orlando, and Cobra’s Curse at Busch Gardens Tampa, a fun family-friendly spinning roller coaster.

Stay tuned after the break for a breakdown of the new Florida Resident deals for SeaWorld parks!

There also are new values for Florida residents who are looking to visit all year long, with incentives for purchasing early in the year.

· Annual Pass: The best value at SeaWorld Orlando and Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is the Annual Pass with unlimited admission all year, free parking, no blockout dates and special benefits. NEW this year for Pass Members are enhanced Instant Rewards – a 12-month calendar of exclusive offerings each month such as discounts, ticket offers and free gifts. With a new reward each month, there is incentive to purchase early and enjoy the full year of offers. With EZ Pay, Annual Passes start at just $14 per month for one park, and $18 per month for both parks.
· SeaWorld Orlando “Preschool Card”: For a limited time, SeaWorld Orlando will offer kids ages five and younger a FREE Preschool Card valid for unlimited admission through December 31, 2016. Cards must be registered online and redeemed in the park by May 27, 2016.

Busch Gardens Tampa Bay and Adventure Island “BOGO Fun Card”: Now through February 29, guests who buy a Fun Card to Busch Gardens also will receive a FREE Fun Card to Adventure Island.