SeaWorld to Open First Theme Park Without Orcas in Abu Dhabi

Updated on
  • Protests compelled shift in focus to non-animal attractions
  • Government-backed Miral licenses name for 2022 park opening

SeaWorld to Open Abu Dhabi Park

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., the theme-park operator coping with flat attendance and criticism from animal-rights groups, is developing its first attraction without killer whales -- and its first outside the U.S. -- through a licensing deal in Abu Dhabi.

SeaWorld and Abu Dhabi-government-backed Miral Asset Management said the park will open in 2022 in Abu Dhabi’s Yas Island, a man-made island that is already home to hotels, a water park and Ferrari World and the Yas Marina Circuit.

SeaWorld Abu Dhabi will feature the United Arab Emirates’ first facility dedicated to research, animal rescue and rehabilitation, which will focus on educating visitors about ocean conservation, according to a statement Tuesday. SeaWorld isn’t committing any capital. The company will provide expertise in design and construction, veterinary medicine, marine science and zoological practice and experience, according to an e-mail.

SeaWorld has battled an ongoing campaign by animal rights activists who say the company shouldn’t keep killer whales in captivity. After attendance was hurt by negative publicity surrounding the whale documentary “Blackfish” and legislative efforts to halt breeding, SeaWorld said it would no long use the animals for entertainment-related shows and no longer mate them.

Under Chief Executive Office Joel Manby, who came on last year, the company is trying to invest in more non-animal attractions, such as roller coasters and ocean-themed rides.

The shares rose as much as 4.4 percent to $19.39, the highest since May. The stock had fallen 5.7 percent this year through Monday.

The UAE, already a major tourist destination, is also planning other theme parks with Six Flags and Legoland.

(Updates terms of agreement starting in first paragraph.)
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