Asif Islam /

February 25, 2016; Orlando Sentinel

This isn’t going to help SeaWorld’s public image. Seven months ago, and as part of a long-ensuing battle, animal rights group People for Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) accused the entertainment company of spying on critics and activists. The nonprofit group presented evidence that a San Diego employee from the company had attended protests and had made comments on social media while portraying themselves to be an activist. On Thursday, SeaWorld publically admitted that multiple employees have posed as animal activists in an attempt to spy on its critics.

SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby said in a statement that SeaWorld’s board of directors has “directed management to end the practice in which certain employees posed as animal rights activists. This activity was undertaken in connection with efforts to maintain the safety and security of employees, customers, and animals in the face of credible threats.”

The statement seems to admit that the practice of spying was at least authorized and possibly intentionally utilized by some in management, rather merely than a rogue employee or two.

“We recognize the need to ensure that all of our security and other activities align with our core values and ethical standards,” SeaWorld’s statement went on. “As always the security and well-being of our employees, customers and animals remains at the forefront of our business practices.”

In a statement, PETA said, “SeaWorld’s latest report confirms not only that the company has employed more than one spy to infiltrate and agitate at PETA but also that it values its spies more highly than the executives who have had their heads chopped off in droves, as at least one of the spies is still working at the company.” The nonprofit group has been campaigning since 1998 to release Tilikum, one of the company’s captive whales, and the other captive orcas, some of which have been living in confined tanks for decades.

In July, SeaWorld launched an investigation into the employee in question that was originally accused of spying by PETA. SeaWorld wouldn’t confirm whether any kind of disciplinary action was taken against the employee.

Backlash and public criticism of SeaWorld has been particularly intense following the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish, which goes behind the scenes on the company’s treatment of captive black orca whales and the effect of that entrapment on the animals. Specifically, the documentary focuses on the violent tendencies of the whales and suggested that those tendencies resulted in the death of at least one SeaWorld employee.—Shafaq Hasan