Skift Take

SeaWorld brought in a lot of fresh new leaders when the company was looking for ways to recover from the Blackfish effect. After years of flailing, the operator is turning to the old guard for ideas — at least for now.

Two days after announcing the resignation of CEO Joel Manby, SeaWorld Entertainment is losing another top executive.

In a regulatory filing Thursday night, the theme park operator said Chief Creative Officer Anthony Esparza had stepped down.

Like the now-departed CEO, Esparza was a relative newcomer: He joined in September 2015, six months after Manby. Both came from privately held theme park operator Herschend Family Entertainment and joined SeaWorld in the wake of the documentary Blackfish, which criticized the company’s treatment of killer whales and led to a years-long plunge in attendance and revenue.

Interim CEO John Reilly said in a memo to employees that a veteran SeaWorld employee,  Mike Denninger, had been promoted to the new position of senior vice president of attractions. Esparza’s departure was related to the change, Reilly said.

“Mike knows our company well and understands what brings audiences to our parks,” wrote Reilly, a 32-year veteran of the company. “He helped to create some of our most popular attractions, including Cheetah Hunt, Manta and Mako, and he is ideally suited to ensure that we continue to efficiently deliver compellingly creative attractions.”


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Tags: blackfish, seaworld, theme parks

Photo credit: The Orca Encounter replaced the more entertainment-focused killer whale show at SeaWorld San Diego following criticism over the operator's treatment of killer whales. Mike Aguilera / SeaWorld San Diego

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