Photographer: Phelan M. Ebenhack/AP Photo

SeaWorld Needs Fresh Board Members, Activist Investor Says

  • Greg Taxin of Spotlight Capital Management owns 4% stake
  • Shares of the theme-park operator undervalued, Taxin says

Activist investor Greg Taxin said he’s pushing for more changes at SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., including new board members, after the company shut down its killer whale shows.

“The board at SeaWorld was asleep for many, many years, and we think it needs to change,” Taxin said on Bloomberg TV Monday. The directors of the Orlando, Florida-based company don’t have a background in theme parks and lack experience “in areas we think are critical,” he said.

Taxin, who runs New York-based Spotlight Capital Management, said he owns about a 4 percent stake in SeaWorld, and that he encouraged management to make changes to its orca program.

SeaWorld has struggled with declining attendance and share performance since the 2013 release of “Blackfish,” a documentary that criticizes its care of captive orcas. The company said last week that it would end its killer whale shows and will eventually stop keeping the animals in captivity. Park visitors instead will be able to see the animals in “natural orca encounters” rather than watching them perform.

The decision is the latest in a series of changes at the company. SeaWorld replaced its chief executive last year with Joel Manby, who previously ran the Dollywood theme park and other attractions. In an investor presentation last week, the company said its revenue, attendance and profit should increase, while its reputation-burnishing ad spending decreases, as a result of the changes to its orca program.

Taxin praised Manby, and said the new natural encounters exhibits will attract more families and help rebrand the theme park.

“The company will grow from here and ought to be valued closer or in line with” Six Flags Entertainment Corp. and Cedar Fair LP, Taxin said.

Shares of SeaWorld rose 16 percent last week, putting the stock up 1 percent on the year.

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