SeaWorld acknowledges planting worker in animal rights group

In this Nov. 30, 2006, file photo, four killer whales leap out of the water while performing during SeaWorld's Shamu show in San Diego. (AP Photo/Chris Park, File)

In this Nov. 30, 2006, file photo, four killer whales leap out of the water while performing during SeaWorld's Shamu show in San Diego. (AP Photo/Chris Park, File)

ORLANDO, Fla. — SeaWorld acknowledged that it sent its own workers to infiltrate an animal rights group which opposed the practices of the theme park.

The development comes months after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accused a SeaWorld employee of trying to incite violence while posing as a fellow animal rights activist.

SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Joel Manby vowed Thursday to end the practice, but said that it had sent its employees to protect the safety of its employees and customers.

“We recognize the need to ensure that all of our security and other activities align with our core values and ethical standards,” Manby said.

However, the company refused to say who had authorized the infiltration, how long it had been going on, or how many workers were used to infiltrate animal rights groups or other opponents. SeaWorld spokeswoman Aimee Jeansonne Becka cited the confidential nature of its security practices.

The employee at the center of the accusations by PETA, Paul McComb, is still employed by SeaWorld but working in another department, the company said Thursday.

PETA said last summer that its own investigation revealed that McComb, a human resource worker, attempted to incite protesters and had posted incendiary comments on social media while masquerading as an animal-rights activist since 2012.

PETA officials said Thursday that SeaWorld’s refusal to fire McComb shows that it condones corporate spying. The group has been especially vocal in its criticism of SeaWorld since the 2013 documentary, “Blackfish,” suggested the treatment of captive orcas provokes violent behavior.

Park attendance dropped after the release of the documentary, which chronicled events at the park leading up to the death of a SeaWorld trainer in 2010.

“The tawdry orca sideshows and despicable spying tactics are sinking SeaWorld’s ship,” said Tracy Reiman, PETA’s executive vice president.

SeaWorld could face civil, and even criminal, legal exposure depending on the information it obtained from McComb about PETA and what the company did with the information, said Sharon Sandeen, a law professor at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul, Minnesota.

If any information SeaWorld got from McComb met the definition of a trade secret — it was secret, had value because it was secret and there was an effort by PETA to keep it secret — then PETA could have a claim of trade secret misappropriation, she said.

“PETA would have to identify information that they said was misappropriated,” Sandeen said. “They would have to show they had policies in place to keep the information secret.”

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. is hiring Freeh Group International Solutions to review oversight and controls over its security practices. The firm was founded by former FBI director, Louis Freeh.

Shares of the company plunged more than 11 percent.

FloridaJoel ManbyOrlandoPeople for the Ethical Treatment of AnimalsPETASeaWorldUS

Just Posted

Plan Bay Area 2050 is an expansive plan guiding the region’s growth and development over the next three decades. The regional plan addresses progressive policy priorities like a universal basic income and a region-wide rent cap, alongside massive new spending on affordable housing and transportation infrastructure. (Shutterstock)
$1.4 trillion ‘blueprint’ would address Bay Area’s housing, transit woes

Analyzing the big ticket proposals in ‘Plan Bay Area 2050’

A felled tree in San Francisco is pictured on Fillmore Street following a major storm that produced high winds and heavy rains on Oct. 24, 2021. (Photo courtesy of Philip Ford)
Storm updates: Sunday was wettest October day in San Francisco history

Torrential rainfall causes flooding, triggers evacuations in burn areas

On Sunday, California bore the brunt of what meteorologists referred to as a bomb cyclone and an atmospheric river, a convergence of storms that brought more than half a foot of rain to parts of the Bay Area, along with high winds, concerns about flash floods and the potential for heavy snow in the Sierra Nevada. Much of the Bay Area was under a flash flood watch on Sunday, with the National Weather Service warning of the potential for mudslides across the region. (NOAA via The New York Times)
Bomb cyclone, atmospheric river combine to pummel California with rain and wind

What you need to know about this historic weather event

While Kaiser Permanente patients seeking mental health care will get a 30-minute phone assessment within days, in many cases, they cannot get actual treatment for months. (Shutterstock)
City employees face months-long wait time for mental health care

‘We are in the midst of a mental health crisis’

Klay Thompson, left, and his boat dealer Kenyon Martin take on his test drive on the NBA star’s 37-foot vessel; injury woes sent Thompson, the Golden State guard, looking for solace. He found it on the water. (Courtesy Anthony Nuccio via New York Times)
Warriors star finds love with his fishing boat

Being on the water is a ‘safe space’ for Klay Thompson

Most Read