SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. reported a smaller fourth-quarter loss than analysts expected, as attendance at its namesake theme parks set records in a seasonally slow period.

The loss of 13 cents a share, excluding some items, was narrower than the 14-cent loss projected, on average, by eight analysts. Sales rose 3.3 percent to $272 million, also beating estimates.

The results show the controversy over SeaWorld’s treatment of killer whales at its parks hasn’t had an impact on attendance, confirming the company’s position. Visits to its three SeaWorld-branded parks set records during the quarter, while overall attendance fell.

The net loss for the quarter widened to $13.5 million, or 15 cents a share, from $8.8 million, or 11 cents, a year earlier.

SeaWorld fell 2.7 percent to $31.51 at the close in New York, before the results. The shares, which were little changed in extended trading, have advanced 9.5 percent this year.

The company has 11 parks, including SeaWorld locations in California, Texas and Florida. Blackstone Group LP purchased SeaWorld from Anheuser-Busch Cos. in December 2009 and took it public last year.

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The company has been battling negative publicity surrounding the documentary “Blackfish,” about the death of an orca trainer, Dawn Brancheau, at SeaWorld in Florida in 2010. The film, and a campaign by animal-rights activists, led entertainers including Willie Nelson to cancel concerts at parks.

Last week, Richard Bloom, a Democratic state assemblymember from Santa Monica, California introduced legislation seeking to phase out killer-whale capitivity in the state.

SeaWorld, in a statement, called the proposal “severly flawed” and “highly questionable” under the U.S. Constitution.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at To contact the editor responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at

Photo Credit: A Halloween performance at Seaworld. Britt Reints / Flickr