SeaWorld Files For IPO
Reuters reported on December 17th that SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, the entertainment company controlled by the Blackstone Group, a private equity firm, were close to filing for an initial public offering.
On December 27th, the Associated Press and the company itself confirmed that the company filed paperwork to go public with a $100 million Initial Public Offering. As more investors become interested in the company, the number is likely to change according to the company’s bankers.
Blackstone bought Busch Entertainment Corporation back in 2009 from Anheuser-Busch InBev for $2.3 billion according to the company. The purchase included all SeaWorld properties, both Busch Gardens properties and adjacent waterparks. It also included Langhorne, Pennsylvania’s Sesame Place as well as Orlando, Florida’s Discovery Cove. Blackstone is expected to sell some of its stock but is planning to keep a majority stake in the company.
According to the Associated Press and SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, about 24 million people attended the parks the company controls in their fiscal year that ended on September 30th. The parks have stated they have a “stable attendance base”.
SeaWorld will use the money raised on the market to pay down debt and make payments to the Blackstone Group. While the date of sale, how many shares and share asking price is unknown, SeaWorld did state they will be trading under the ticker symbol “SEAS” on the Nasdaq market.
For over the past two years now, SeaWorld Orlando has been locked in a battle against OSHA fines and regulations. After OSHA banned SeaWorld from allowing trainers back in the water with its whales during performances, they ruled at the end of May that they must be separated by a physical barrier. SeaWorld, displeased with the ruling, appealed the decision to an independent review commission in Washington. According to a report from the Orlando Sentinel, the commission rejected SeaWorld’s appeal to try and overturn this ruling.
The ordeal started back on Feb 24, 2010, when SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau was pulled under water by the park’s largest, six-ton killer whale, Tilikum, and drowned. After OSHA’s investigation, they cited SeaWorld with over $75,000 in “willful” safety violations and barred SeaWorld from allowing trainers close contact with the bigger whales. After much deliberation, OSHA dropped the “willful” classification from its fines, its most severe classification/violation, but conceded nothing more.
SeaWorld made many changes at their parks, including false-bottom floors in their show tanks, locations underwater for oxygen equipment, and even water vehicles which could distract whales should one find themselves in trouble. It wasn’t enough for OSHA, and as things progressed, their restrictions became more severe, culminating in May’s ruling that they must be protected by a physical barrier from the animals. The only concession made by OSHA in that ruling is that it limited the separation to performances only, since veterinary care and training itself requires close contact with the whales.
At this point, SeaWorld can appeal the judge’s order in a US appellate court in either Washington or Atlanta. Though they have announced no plans, since day one, the park has been fighting a ruling which they feel “contained errors in fact and the law,” as reported by the Orlando Sentinel. Throughout the cases over the past two years, SeaWorld’s trainers themselves have been fighting in favor of SeaWorld, despite the fact that it was one the death of one of their own that lead to the entire ordeal. Whatever SeaWorld decides, they will do so within the next 60 days, but it seems likely they will go to the US Court of Appeals.
The worry outside of SeaWorld is the impact the ruling may have elsewhere. It is possible that OSHA could begin enforcing this ruling across other various shows which put trainers in the same enclosure as larger or more dangerous animals, such as shows involving lions, elephants, wolves, etc. After two years of hard fighting, it is likely SeaWorld has not given up yet, and will continue to appeal the decision to the highest level possible.
SeaWorld Fighting OSHA Ruling
Over the past few weeks, things have been developing briskly and harshly in the fight between SeaWorld and the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). After trainer Dawn Brancheau was drug underwater and killed on February 24, 2010 by Tilikum, the parks largest Orca whale, OSHA brought three citations against SeaWorld and accused them of committing a “willful” safety violation, its most severe classification, by not “more adequately protecting trainers.”
According to the Orlando Sentinel, OSHA’s ruling against the park not only slaps the park with a $75,000 fine, but what they want to require of trainers working with animals could put much more at stake for the $1.2 billion-a-year business at SeaWorld parks. The ruling could also open up potential for a whole new slew of potential lawsuits, and could affect zoos and animal parks throughout the US in a similar way. Jack Hanna, celebrity biologist and director of the Columbus Zoo told the Orlando Sentinel “A lot of people are following this. I’m concerned about the about the outcome. And I think anybody in our business should be.”
The biggest problem SeaWorld faces isn’t even the accusation that it committed a “willful” safety violation, but OSHA’s proposal for how the problem be fixed, or “abated.” Not only do they recommend prohibiting trainers from being in the water with the whales, but even from being at the edges of the pool unless protected by a “physical barrier.” OSHA has stated that for smaller animals at SeaWorld, they may not need such drastic measures, but would still “accept other means of abatement,” including but not limited to: decking systems, emergency oxygen supplies, and vast engineering changes. While it may be the safest measure and precaution that could be taken, it would also be the most costly and prohibitive.
Since the incident, trainers have been prohibited from being in the water with the park’s killer whales, but the company has made it clear over the months it would like to find a solution to allow them to interact in the water once again. SeaWorld is ready to spend tens of millions of dollars in safety improvements, such as a “false-bottom floor” they’ve installed in the same pool Brancheau was killed in, as well as vests for trainers to wear with emergency air supplies. If tests with these innovations are successful, and the whales can be trained to ignore the vests, SeaWorld plans to utilize these in all their pools at all of their parks. Even still, OSHA wants more, they want the “physical barrier.” Pending the results of the hearing, if SeaWorld resumes water work, it could face a fines of $7,000 per day.
This past week, SeaWorld went to court with OSHA for a hearing, with SeaWorld fighting against OSHA’s accusations of “willful” safety violations. SeaWorld spokeswoman Becca Bides said in a statement, as reported by WESH Orlando, “SeaWorld disagrees with the unfounded allegations made by OSHA. These allegations are completely basesless, unsupported by any evidence or precedent, and reflect a fundamental lack of understanding of the safety requirements associated with marine mammal care.”
SeaWorld has a reputation of being one of the best in the world when it comes to marine life rescue, rehabilitation, care, commitment, and training. In the hearing last week, they challenged the testimony of Dave Duffus, a professor at the University of Victoria in British Columbia whom OSHA is using to argue against the safety aspect of their findings. But SeaWorld questioned much of his testimony since his research involves wild, rather than captive, whales, and even got him to admit and support that SeaWorld was among the best at what they do. The hearing, which took place over last week, is now in recess until mid-November, so stay tuned at that time for any more developments from this story.
SeaWorld Being Sued by OSHA
More than a year and a half after the death of Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld, the tragic incident is still alive and well in court. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration is suing SeaWorld over its lack of safety for the park’s killer whale trainers.
The park was fined $75,000 last August over safety violations related to Brancheau’s death, as reported by COASTER-net. OSHA’s investigations uncovered increased violations, leading to the lawsuit.
According to wtsp.com, a Florida news station, OSHA uncovered that the theme park would give new employees a “Tilli Talk,” and trainers were given a warning that getting in the water with Tilikum, the whale that killed Brancheau, could result in serious injury or death. However, SeaWorld has denied these allegations.
Additionally, OSHA has questioned how SeaWorld has changed their stadiums and shows since the accident. When asked, SeaWorld executives stated they “couldn’t remember,” about the changes. SeaWorld told news stations last year about the changes they had made to keep trainers safe, in direct conflict of the administrators’ lack of recollection.
SeaWorld has stated that these changes were not “an admission that killer whales are dangerous,” according to wtsp.com. Despite all of OSHA’s doubts, though, trainers have not since been in the water with the whales.
In correlation with the lawsuit, Brancheau’s family is fighting the release of the video of Brancheau’s death. SeaWorld surveillance cameras caught the entire incident, and the trainer’s widower, Scott Brancheau wished the tape to be sealed. Florida has barred the video from being shown, but this does not apply to OSHA, only to media and SeaWorld.
Much to the distress of the family, OSHA has refused to guarantee the confidentiality of the video, according to wesh.com, another Orlando news site. OSHA has been given until September 12th to respond to the family’s pleas by an Orlando federal judge.
OSHA’s hearing for the SeaWorld investigation is to be held on September 19th. COASTER-net.com will be following the story as more updates are released.
For the first time in about a year, the Sea World parks are going to be putting its trainers back into the water with the killer whales. On February 25th, 2010, a trainer was drowned and killed by Sea World's largest orca, which is 6 tons. The trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was of Sea World Orlando, and the orca that took her life was named Tilikum. According to the Orlando Sentinel, trainers will soon begin being in the water for a limited time with the whales at all three of the Sea World parks in the United States, Orlando, San Antonio, and San Diego. The park has not been in the situation ever before, where the trainers are completely taken out of the water from the whales and some of the park's most popular shows can no longer happen due to this. But after last year's incident, the parks are going through everything possible to make sure the same incident does not happen again. Parks are installing numerous safety upgrades in its whale tanks to help ensure incidents do not turn out to be fatal.
The upgrades that the parks are undergoing are things such as fast rising floors in the large tanks as well as underwater vehicles that can distract the whales in case they decide to attack a trainer. The custom designed rising floors will be able to rise in less than a minute's time, if necessary, to lift the whale out of the water as well as be low enough for the trainer to stand up. The cabled lift stations in Sea World's medical pools can rise in about 60 seconds exactly, where as these new Oceaneering International Inc. manufactured floors will rise in a much quicker time span upon activation after an incident had occurred. The amount of money that Sea World expects to spend on these floors will be massive, but it will be necessary to help ensure a safe environment for the trainers and eventually get back to the public shows that involve the trainers in the pool with the killer whales, which is a reason why a lot of Sea World lovers go to Sea World. Oceaneering is also making a remote control under water vehicle for another safety upgrade. These vehicles will be designed to actually distract a killer whale upon an emergency situation. These vehicles will be able to float to the surface, swim in specific patterns, flash with strobe lights, vibrate and emit sounds, and more. Whale trainers will also eventually be equipped with emergency air supplies that will provide them with two to five minutes of air assuming they were trapped underwater. These air supplies were originally designed for use in the U.S. Military.
The whales themselves will be put through desensitization. Tilikum has already been put through a lot of this as he is responsible for three of the deaths at Sea World in the past twenty years. For now, the training will only be taking place in the park's medical pools and Sea World is not certain when they will progress the training past this point. Time will tell where it goes from here and how long it will be until the parks return to the normal shows it had before last year's incident.
We all remember back in February, when a tragic accident involving one of Seaworld's killer whales occurred. One of the whale's trainers had been drowned when the whale, Tilikum, pulled the trainer by her ponytail into the water. Normally, trainers survive incidents like these, but that was not the case this time. Initially, the family of the trainer did not want to press charges, and did not fault the park. But recently, government officials have decided that working conditions were NOT safe at the time of the incident, opening up the opportunity for lawsuit. Realizing that the incident could partly be the park's fault, the family has said that they may end up suing the park after all.
The government agency that decided that the conditions were not safe, OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, is pressing charges against the park, allowing the family to follow suit. Their job is to make sure that workplaces are safe for employees. In their reports, the government officials said that whale trainers deserve the same safety benefits of other fields of work, and it is time for amusement parks to be forced to provide safe conditions - and make sure that parks are no longer be able to get away with statements such as 'working with whales is inherently dangerous'. The park is predicted to respond with a statement saying that you can't take humane care of whales in captivity without the close contact that creates these incidents.
It is still in question as to whether or not the family will sue, but OSHA will do so no matter what the family's decision ends up being.
SeaWorld Fined by OSHA
SeaWorld has recently been fined $75,000 by OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, for safety violations related to the tragic death of Dawn Blancheau this past February. Dawn passed away after an accident involving a giant orca . After investigations OSHA has determined that "willful" safety hazards were involved in the accident.
Part of the statement includes, "At the Shamu Stadium pools, animal trainers working with Tilikum, a killer whale with known aggressive tendencies and who was involved in the 1991 death of a whale trainer at a marine park in Vancouver, British Columbia, were exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards in that they were allowed unprotected contact with Tilikum while conducting "drywork"performances on pool ledges, slideouts and platforms, on or about 2/24/2010. At the Shamu Stadium pools, animal trainers working with killer whales other than Tilicum, were exposed to struck-by and drowning hazards in that they were allowed to engage in "waterwork" and "drywork" performances with the killer whales without adequate protection, on or about 2/24/2010."
OSHA determines adequate protection to be, "a physical barrier, or any other engineering solution that gives the trainers the same level of protection as a physical barrier." This could mean that the future of shows that involve whale-to-human interaction could be in jeopardy. Naturally, SeaWorld is trying to fight the rulings in order to save their ability to continue these shows.
The total of $75,000 actually comes from two different fines. The first and more serious fine is a $70,000 fine for the endangerment and death of Dawn. The second fine is a $5,000 fine for not having a stair railing on the "Believe" stage in Shamu Stadium.
Whale Attack at SeaWorld Orlando
This afternoon, a female employee was killed at the start of a show at SeaWorld's Shamu Stadium in Orlando, Florida. According to eye witnesses, the employee had just explained to the audience what they were about to see in the show when all of a sudden a whale came out of the water and grabbed the employee by the waist. She was whipped around, making one of her shoes to fly off her foot. Sirens went off and the entire audience was evacuated from Shamu Stadium.The fire department was there within 5 minutes of the phone call that was made a little before 2 pm, however the employee was dead by the time they arrived. The whale's name was Tillikum, nicknamed "Tilly". Tilly drowned a trainer in 1991 in British Columbia. Our prayers are with the employees family and friends.
Manta Circuit Complete
It seems as though its been forever since the rumors of Sea World Orlando receiving a new B&M Flyer started to whirl in July of 2007. Since then, the mystery surrounding this ride has only added to the hype that always accompanies any joint effort between the Busch parks and master coaster designers, Bolliger and Mabillard. But one thing was certain through all of the uncertainties. From the rumor stage, to the concept art, to the official announcement, to the pouring of the first footers, everyone knew that this ride would be something special.
In early April of 2008, word leaked out that Sea World was officially going to be building a new thrill machine. Hover it was immediately stated that it would be like nothing the world had ever seen. Part educational exhibit, part aquarium, and part roller coaster, even enthusiasts such as ourselves where scratching our heads wondering what this park had up its sleeves.
Later that month, rough conceptual renderings of the ride began to pop up. These clearly depicted a "ray" themed flyer that would actually did its wings into the water creating a splash-down element.
Finally, on May 29, Sea World Orlando officially announced that they were contracting B&M to build for them a world class flying coaster that would truly be a spectacle to behold. But the name of Manta and its bare-bones stats were all that were presented of the ride at that time.
Once again the rumor mill began to whirl regarding the details of this ride. Could it really be as extraordinary as the PR guys were claiming? And would it be more closely related to the SUF clones or to Tatsu?
Over the past six months, ground work and vertical construction have proceeded at an astonishing pace. Each section of track laid into possition gave us more knowledge about this new coaster. And now it is complete ... well almost.
The trackwork is complete and looks like it will truly deliver an awesome ride. But what should really make this ride shine is its theme. The Busch parks have always paid excessive attention to detail and Manta should top all previous coasters in that category.
So once again we wait and watch. But still we can be assured that when it opens, Manta will truly be something special.
'Manta' topped off at SeaWorld Orlando
Manta, SeaWorld Orlando's new flying coaster, was topped off on October 29.
The construction crew set the highest piece of track in place at 140ft in the air along with a ceremonial evergreen tree and an American flag. The construction of Manta, engineered by Bolliger & Mabillard of Switzerland, will be all downhill from this point on.
Other flying coasters are Tatsu at Six Flags Magic Mountain and Superman: Ultimate Flight at Six Flags Great Adventure. However, this one separates itself from the others with its unique SeaWorld-style theming, including a lagoon of marine creatures, hence the ride's name, beneath the coaster.
Manta should open in early 2009.