SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby has for the first time admitted that the company's workers have posed as animal rights activists to spy on critics of the park's treatment of captive marine creatures.
Manby made the admission during an investor relations call on Thursday, saying, according to the Orlando Sentinel, that the company's board has "directed management to end the practice in which certain employees posed as animal-welfare 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."
His statement was also posted online.
The acknowledgement follows a claim in 2015 by the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) that animal rights activist "Thomas Jones" was, in fact, SeaWorld employee Paul T. McComb, who had "work[ed] his way into a network of San Diego-area activists concerned with the company's ongoing orca captivity and breeding programs," animal news site The Dodo reports. Jones was
fond of inflammatory rhetoric and appeared to be trying to incite the activists to violence. "It's time for Direct [sic] action against #seaworld," one tweet [by Jones] read. "I need to find a way to personal [sic] stop them. I will be coming…"
"There were a number of red flags relating to this individual," Lindsay Rajt, spokesperson for PETA, told The Dodo at the time. "Any genuine animal advocate is not on social media saying things like, 'Burn SeaWorld to the ground and drain the tanks.'"
But "McComb remains an employee of SeaWorld, has returned to work at SeaWorld in a different department and is no longer on administrative leave," Manby's statement adds.
The "amusement park" has long been the subject of criticism for its treatments of animals, including the small size of the tanks the animals are kept in and worker treatment of animals. Scrutiny over the park also came to the big screen with the 2013 release of the documentary Blackfish, which focuses on the captivity of one orca.
"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," PETA said Thursday in a statement.
"SeaWorld's finances continue to flop as animals continue to be found dead in its tiny tanks, with one death every single month since November," the statement continues. "If SeaWorld had business savvy or common sense, it would modernize its business with coastal sanctuaries and virtual reality displays instead of building more roller coasters and dolphin prisons."