SeaWorld attendance takes a plunge in 2015

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seaworldWhales

During a night performance at Shamu Stadium, trainers direct orcas. Critics are demanding an end to keeping the animals captive for entertainment. (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles Times)

SAN DIEGO — Attendance at SeaWorld San Diego plunged 7 percent last year, a time when increasing numbers of people visited theme parks in the U.S. and around the world, according to a report released Wednesday.

The report from the Themed Entertainment Association and Los Angeles-based consultant Aecom said more than 3.5 million visitors passed through the gates of SeaWorld San Diego last year, compared to almost 3.8 million in 2014.

SeaWorld San Diego was the 14th most-visited theme park in the U.S. after placing 12th the year before, according to the report. It was the only one of the U.S. top 20 where the number of visitors dropped.

The park has struggled with attendance in recent years following criticism of the handling of orcas. SeaWorld announced earlier this year that it would end captive breeding of killer whales and reformulate its “Shamu” shows.

David Koontz of SeaWorld San Diego said the report is based on estimates, not actual numbers. The report’s authors said they obtain numbers from the operators themselves, financial reports and other sources.

Walt Disney World in Florida had the highest attendance at almost 20.5 million.

Attendance at the top 20 U.S. theme parks rose 5.9 percent last year.

“The growth we’ve seen this year is tremendous for a relatively mature industry,” said John Robinett, senior vice president of economics at Aecom. “Over our 10 years of tracking the industry, we have seen steady improvements in business volume — despite a global recession, the introduction of exciting new technologies and continued internationalization of the attractions world.”

Last year saw 236 million visits to the top 25 amusement and theme parks worldwide, up 5.4 percent, the report said.

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