SeaWorld is sinking, and some of its executives are jumping ship. CEO Jim Atchison, who is stepping down on Jan. 15, is leaving the theme park company with a $2.6 million severance package, as first reported by USA Today. That includes $2.4 million in cash, a little more than $40,000 in health care and $10,000 in outplacement services.
Chairman David D’Alessandro will replace Atchison as interim CEO. He will take over as board chairman for the SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Not only is Atchison stepping down, but on Monday, SeaWorld filed a change in directors form, stating Bruce McEvoy was stepping down from the board of directors effective Jan. 15 and would be replaced by Thomas Moloney. McEvoy had been a director of the company since 2009. The form states there was no disagreement with the company at the time of his resignation. Moloney is the newest member of the board, alongside two others who joined when Atchison announced his resignation.
SeaWorld has been under fire for the past year and a half after the release of the documentary “Blackfish.” The documentary tells the story of an orca whale, Tilikum, that was brought to SeaWorld in Orlando to perform in its star shows despite his deadly past with a trainer at the now-closed Sealand in Canada. Tilikum went on to kill two more people in Orlando. He is still being held at SeaWorld.
With interviews from orca whale researchers, hunters and medical scientists, the documentary’s message is clear: Orca whales have strong emotions and they don’t belong at an amusement park. The film sparked a harsh response from the public. Social media outcries, petitions like one from “young people who want to see an end to using whales and dolphins in theme parks for entertainment” and protests like the one at the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day parade taking a stand against SeaWorld’s float, insist that SeaWorld and its executives need to take responsibility for the well-being of its animals.