A real estate investment company from China announced it became the largest SeaWorld shareholder and will import the controversial theme parks of the U.S. company into China.
In a statement it released on Friday, the Zhonghong Zhuoye group announced that it will acquire a stake of 21% in SeaWorld Entertainment whose shows have killer whales but have been fiercely criticized by different animal rights groups.
The China-based company acquired the stake of Blackstone at $23 a share, with the deal expected to have a value of $430 million.
This purchase, which will be finalized during the 2017 second quarter, will make the Chinese group the largest SeaWorld shareholder, with a possibility of increasing its stake to 24.9%.
This deal also provides Zhonghong with the exclusive rights of developing theme parks across mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan, said SeaWorld in another prepared statement.
The Zhonghong President of operations in the U.S. Yoshikazu Maruyama said the company was delighted it engaged with SeaWorld to bring the world-class, iconic family entertainment brand into China.
The group, added the statement, is making a long-term significant investment in the SeaWorld brand that reflects its appreciation of how strong the brand is, the potential it has to grow and its shared commitment to the protection of the environment and wildlife, said Joel Manby the CEO at SeaWorld.
SeaWorld Entertainment was founded back in 1959 and operates 12 parks in the U.S. including three parks called SeaWorld that are dedicated to the different marine attractions with dolphin and killer whale shows.
However, its reputation was tainted by scandals and by strong opposition from environmental organizations.
In 2010, the ponytail of a trainer at SeaWorld was grabbed by a killer whale and dragged her underwater to her death. The incident took place in front of many horrified onlookers when a show was ending in Orlando Florida’s SeaWorld Park.
The same whale was also involved in a part-timer trainer’s death in 1991 at Sealand in Canada, as well as that of a male in 1999 after he sneaked into the park to swim with the mammals following the closing of the park for the night.
Tilly was featured in a documentary in 2013 called Blackfish that outlined those fatalities and sought to show how captivity impacts the giant sea mammals.
Animal rights organizations have charged that the killer whales have been fed improperly, held in too small tanks and forced to perform.