SAN DIEGO — Sixty employees at SeaWorld San Diego were issued layoff notices Tuesday, part of a wide-ranging restructuring by its parent company, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment.
SeaWorld announced that it would trim its workforce company-wide by 320 employees.
The company filed a notice of mass layoffs with the state Employment Development Department that listed 60 workers affected at the San Diego theme park, including five merchandise supervisors, five painters and four assistant curators. The education and promotions departments were also impacted by the layoffs.
The company said it implemented a restructuring plan “focused on reducing costs, increasing efficiencies, reducing duplication of functions and improving the company’s operations through proven benchmarks. These changes are being made to best position our company for long-term success, and so that we can continue to do great things for animals across the globe.”
The statement said SeaWorld would continue to focus on the guest experience, the health and welfare of animals, and the safety of visitors and the company’s 23,000 or so employees.
“It is an unfortunate, but necessary, consequence of the restructuring that some positions will be lost,” the statement said. “For those employees, we are offering enhanced severance benefits and outplacement assistance to help with their transition.”
The employees who are losing their jobs will receive their regular salaries and benefits for 60 days, according to the EDD filing.
The company operates a dozen attractions, including SeaWorld locations in San Diego, San Antonio and Orlando, plus Aquatica waterparks and Busch Gardens theme parks.
Attendance at the SeaWorld parks has declined in the face of sustained pressure from animal rights advocates, who oppose the captivity of orcas. The company announced in March that it was ending its orca breeding program.
“This was not on anybody’s Christmas list. This is very sad news for many SeaWorld employees, many of which have been with the company for many many years,” said San Diego State University business ethics expert, Wendy Patrick.
“This is a no-win situation, but a necessary move on the part of SeaWorld as a part of a broader restructuring effort. Truth be told, SeaWorld hasn’t bounced back the way they thought they would from what I call the “‘Blackfish’ backlash,” which now occurred several years ago, but still continues to impact the company,” said Patrick.
The backlash Patrick is referring to is the documentary “Blackfish,” which took aim at SeaWorld’s controversial treatment of its orcas and is reported to be the biggest factor for the company’s dismal attendance numbers in 2016. According to reports attendance for the second quarter was down by 494,000 guests compared with the same quarter in 2015, a 7.6 percent drop.
“Despite all of the improvements SeaWorld has made, they have not regained the ground they lost over the last couple of years and this massive job cut is just another symptom of that larger problem,” said Patrick.