SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. replaced its chief executive officer after criticism by animal-rights groups led to a drop in attendance at its parks.

Jim Atchison will receive a $2.4 million payout, according to a regulatory filing. He led the company as CEO through its initial public offering and defended it against critics who oppose keeping killer whales in captivity, will leave that post to become vice chairman, according to a statement today. Chairman David F. D’Alessandro will take on the added role of interim CEO during the search for a permanent replacement.

Atchison will also be a consultant advising the company on its international expansion and its conservation initiatives. D’Alessandro, chairman since 2010, is a formal chairman and CEO of John Hancock Financial Services. The company announced an unspecified number of job cuts in a restruturing across its entire 11-park system.

“We remain committed to our growth agenda and enhancing value for our shareholders,” D’Alessandro said in the statement.

To contact the reporter on this story: Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at cpalmeri1@bloomberg.net. To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at apalazzo@bloomberg.net

Photo Credit: Visitors are greeted by an Orca killer whale as they attend a show featuring the whales during a visit to the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, California March 19, 2014. Mike Blake / Reuters