The company reports that the expansion, dubbed the Blue World Project, will double the size of its existing facility in San Diego. The new facility will be 50 feet deep, 350 feet long, have a surface area of nearly 1.5 acres and a total water volume of 10 million gallons, according to a news release. Artist renditions of the habitat were also released.
SeaWorld didn’t confirm the cost of the new habitat, although the Wall Street Journal reported that it would be “several hundred million dollars.” Along with the habitat expansion, SeaWorld will also donate $10 million in matching funds to killer whale research.
“Our new killer whale homes and research initiatives have just as bold a vision: to advance global understanding of these animals, to educate, and to inspire conservation efforts to protect killer whales in the wild,” said SeaWorld Entertainment CEO and President Jim Atchison in a statement.
The new habitat is expected to be complete by 2018. It will be followed by similar such expansions at SeaWorld parks in San Antonio and Orlando.
This comes after SeaWorld released its dismal second-quarter earnings report Wednesday, which sent its stock into a freefall, plunging by 33 percent in one day. It fell another four percent Thursday, sitting at $18 a share Friday morning. Attendance between April 1 and June 30 was 6.6 million, nearly flat compared to the same period in 2013.
Shamu the killer whale has undoubtedly been the biggest draw at SeaWorld. In an ironic twist, Shamu is also the reason the theme park's attendance is flat and revenue dropped.
Some are pointing to the Blackfish effect. The controversial 2013 documentary blasted SeaWorld for its treatment of orcas and viewers started a movement, pressuring the park to release the killer whales.
SeaWorld executives have adamantly denied animal abuse allegations, along with allegations that they do not do enough to protect the trainers who work with killer whales.
The earnings report said the company does not expect things to turn around this year. They are forecasting 2014's revenue to be down by as much as 16 percent.
PETA released the following statement Friday in response to SeaWorld’s announcement:
“This is a desperate drop-in-the-bucket move to try to turn back the hands of time at a time when people understand the suffering of captive orcas, and it will not save the company. What could save it would be the recognition that it needs not to make larger tanks but to turn the orcas out in seaside sanctuaries so that they can feel and experience the ocean again, hear their families, and one day be reunited with them. A bigger prison is still a prison.”