In a nearly full outdoor theater, audience members coo and clap as SeaWorld’s youngest sea lions slither on stage where trainers entice them with fresh fish and an orange rubber toy they obediently fetch from the show pool. Nearby, the faint shrieks of people riding the sprawling Manta roller coaster fill the air every time the trains take a 54-foot plunge.
Several animal shows and coaster rides later, many of these same visitors will end their Saturday outing by stopping to catch one of the San Diego park’s newer attractions — a summertime Sesame Street parade of whimsical floats, with Elmo and friends dancing their way down the parade route.
It was only a few years ago that growing unease over captive killer whales, fueled by the blistering documentary “Blackfish,” made visiting SeaWorld’s marine parks feel like a shameful experience for many. Company revenue and visitation tanked, and there were even rumors of a possible sale.