SeaWorld plans new killer whale environments

In this April 10, 2014 photo, Sea World trainer Ryan Faulkner, left, with killer whale Melia and Michelle Shoemaker, right, with killer whale Kayla work on a routine for a show at the theme park, in Orlando, Fla. According to analysis of federal data the Associated Press found that the average life expectancy for captive killer whales was more than 27 years, compared to an estimated 49 years for the wild population, using often-cited populations of wild killer whales off British Columbia and Washington state. (AP Photo/John Raoux)
In this April 10, 2014 photo, Sea World trainer Ryan Faulkner, left, with killer whale Melia and Michelle Shoemaker, right, with killer whale Kayla work on a routine for a show at the theme park, in Orlando, Fla. According to analysis of federal data the Associated Press found that the average life expectancy for captive killer whales was more than 27 years, compared to an estimated 49 years for the wild population, using often-cited populations of wild killer whales off British Columbia and Washington state. (AP Photo/John Raoux)

NEW YORK (AP) — SeaWorld says they will build new, larger environments for killer whales at its theme parks, and will fund additional research on the animals along with programs to protect ocean health and whales in the wild.

Business for the Orlando, Florida, company has been hurt by negative publicity surrounding its treatment of killer whales. The 2013 documentary “Blackfish” suggested that captivity and SeaWorld’s treatment of the whales provokes violent behavior, which in turn has led to the death of trainers.

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. will build a tank with 10 million gallons of water at its San Diego park, almost twice the size of the current tank. The new environment will be called the Blue World Project, and SeaWorld said it will include features that will be more stimulating for the whales. Those include a “fast water current” that will allow the whales to swim against moving water. The facility will open to the public in 2018, and after that, SeaWorld said it will make similar changes at its Orlando and San Antonio locations.

The company did not say how much it is spending on the renovations.

The company also pledged $10 million in matching funds to support research focused on threats to killer whales in the wild, and announced a multimillion-dollar partnership focused on ocean health.

SeaWorld reported disappointing second-quarter results on Wednesday and said “Blackfish” hurt attendance. Its net income and revenue both fell short of Wall Street expectations and the company withdrew its financial outlook for the year.

Several entertainers, including country singer Trisha Yearwood and rock band Barenaked Ladies, have pulled out of planned performances at SeaWorld parks since the release of the movie. In July Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld said they were ending a 25-year marketing partnership at the end of this year. SeaWorld said the decision was mutual, and said it wants to concentrate on growing markets in Latin America and Asia.

SeaWorld stock closed at $18 on Thursday. That is its lowest price since the company went public in April 2013.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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