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SAN DIEGO — An animal rights group is taking advantage of the drop in SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc.’s stock price to buy shares of the embattled company.

“Buying more stock enables us to continue to put pressure on executives to do the only humane thing,” said Lindsay Rajt of People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, a group working to get SeaWorld to release its performing orcas.

PETA purchased 55 shares of the newly downgraded stock bringing their total asset to 135 shares. It is the second time PETA has purchased shares in the company since SeaWorld went public in 2013.

“This allows us to attend shareholder meetings and ask questions of executives in front of other shareholders,” Rajt said.

SeaWorld issued this statement in response to PETA’s purchase :

Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment are publicly traded and may be purchased by anyone.   PETA already holds SeaWorld shares.  Despite their claim to the contrary, SeaWorld’s animals are well-cared for and their health and well-being is a responsibility we take extremely seriously. We are proud of our world-class standards of care. We’re also proud of our work rescuing wild animals in need, rehabilitating them and returning them to the wild. These are real and tangible efforts that are making a difference. We wish the same could be said for PETA’s efforts and use of their funds.

PETA’s stock purchase comes after SeaWorld, responding to criticism of its treatment of the marine mammals, announced plans to expand its orca enclosure.  Local economic forecasters say the announcement is akin to introducing a new attraction – long overdue for the battered theme park, which has seen a decline in attendance.

“I think if the Orcas go away, and I think there is strong pressure both from the public and legislature, the next alternative is roller coasters and thrill rides,” said Erik Bruvold, president of National University Office of Public Policy Research.

SeaWorld’s economic impact on San Diego is substantial.  In 2013 the theme park paid $14 million in rent, or 45 percent of revenue, which goes into a fund for Mission Bay restoration and regional parks throughout San Diego.

“To some extent if SeaWorld really fell off it, it would be a problem,” said Bruvold. “We’d have to be looking how to replace that revenue.

But don’t count SeaWorld out just yet. Two major brokerage firms who do independent analysis, S&P Capitol and Bank Suisse, are still

recommending the stock.

But Rajt said PETA will keep pushing the company to free its killer whales.

“The American public is not going to be fooled. They well grasp that these animals suffer in captivity,” she said.