SeaWorld has been a fixture in San Diego for almost 50 years.

Later this month, the park will kick off an 18-month celebration of this anniversary, a promotional push that coincides with continued fallout from an explosive documentary that’s led to continued criticism of the SeaWorld’s history with its killer whales.

I’ve gotten quite a few emails from Voice of San Diego readers who say they won’t visit the park again after watching “Blackfish” but the movie’s impact on the company’s bottom line remains unclear.

To assess the potential implications for our region, it’s crucial to understand SeaWorld’s San Diego footprint. Here are some key numbers that put that in perspective.


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4.4 million

The number of SeaWorld San Diego visitors in 2012, according a report released last year by the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM, a global consulting group.

That placed SeaWorld San Diego among the top 25 theme parks in the world. (It was the 22nd most visited attraction the report reviewed.) SeaWorld Orlando had about 914,000 more guests than San Diego’s marine park in 2012.

Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park, both in Anaheim, and Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City all saw more visitors than either SeaWorld location in 2012, the report found.

10

The number of killer whales at SeaWorld San Diego.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson
An orca performs at SeaWorld San Diego's One Ocean show.

190

Acres SeaWorld rents from the city of San Diego. This includes roughly 172 acres of land and about 18 acres of water within Mission Bay Park.

SeaWorld’s marina covers most of the water acreage but there’s also a lagoon area that’s home to the park’s  Cirque de la Mer shows in the summer.

Image courtesy Google Maps
Image courtesy of Google Maps

$14 million

The approximate rent SeaWorld paid to the city of San Diego in fiscal year 2013 in exchange for use of leased land and water in the city-owned Mission Bay Park. This figure is based on percentages of several SeaWorld San Diego revenue streams between July 2012 and June 2013.

The previous year, SeaWorld paid the city about $12.7 million. That year’s payment made up about 46 percent of the total rent revenue the city collected from its Mission Bay leases in 2012.

SeaWorld’s lease brings far more annual cash than the city receives from other Mission Bay tenants. By comparison, three major hotels each paid the city $2 million to $3 million in 2012.

$1.46 billion

The projected revenue from all SeaWorld parks  in 2013. SeaWorld’s two other parks are in Orlando and San Antonio.

In January, SeaWorld released preliminary profit numbers and suggested fourth-quarter attendance at its three parks helped it reach those record revenue levels.

Final results will be released next week.

2,500-4,500

The number of employees at SeaWorld San Diego.

Staffing varies considerably throughout the year. The park has as many as 4,500 employees working during its busy summer months but the staff count can drop as low as 2,500 in the winter, a SeaWorld spokesman said.

He said summer employment totals often spike when the marine park opens new attractions or exhibits that require additional manpower.

41

The number of San Diego-area employees at Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute.

The SeaWorld-affiliated nonprofit consists of 37 research workers, including high-level biologists who specialize in areas including marine mammals, animal bioacoustics, fisheries ecology, bird behavior and marine mammal health. The research center’s headquarters are next door to SeaWorld San Diego but there are also locations in Carlsbad and Brevard County, Fla. All but three of the institute’s researchers work in the San Diego region. Seven other local staffers provide support.

The overarching goal of the institute is to uncover solutions to deal with human activity that interferes or conflicts with marine animals.  A SeaWorld spokesman says graduate students and interns also regularly work at the institute.

93,000-plus

The number of San Diego County residents who have worked at SeaWorld over the last 50 years, according to the company.

27,000

The approximate number of animals who live at SeaWorld San Diego.

A spokesman said more than 80 percent of the 27,000 animals are fish in the park’s aquariums and touch pools.

Photo by Sam Hodgson
Photo by Sam Hodgson

This is part of our Quest: SeaWorld series digging into the park’s impact on our region. Check out the previous story – Takeaways from SeaWorld’s Big Anti-‘Blackfish’ Campaign – and the next in our series   What SeaWorld Returns to the Wild.

    This article relates to: Economy, News, Quest, Quest: SeaWorld, SeaWorld

    Written by Lisa Halverstadt

    Lisa Halverstadt is a reporter at Voice of San Diego. Know of something she should check out? You can contact her directly at lisa@vosd.org or 619.325.0528.

    30 comments
    paradocs
    paradocs subscribermember

    Does not Sea World also pay taxes to the City or County of San Diego in addition to the lease payment? I believe I once heard they are the largest City/County taxpayer, but I am not certain of this

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    Here's some more numbers worth study -- the increased mortality of captive orcas. "This new analysis determined that captive orca survivorship overall has grown worse in the past decade and a half. For animals who have entered captivity since 1993 (and thus have experienced only husbandry that has presumably improved since the Small and DeMaster study), survivorship has not changed25. In addition, captive-born animals, although they have survived better than

    wild-caught animals through 2010, have not survived better than captive orcas overall did through 1992. Therefore the predicted improvement in survivorship has not in fact materialized, despite the increase in the proportion of captive-born animals making up the sample and despite supposedly continued improvement in husbandry techniques.

    "The most parsimonious explanation for this failure to show improved survivorship, despite the effort by oceanaria to advance husbandry techniques in the past 45 years, is that orcas are inherently unsuited to confinement. No improvements or advances in training, nutrition, veterinary care, husbandry, or transport can “fix” this poor survivorship.

    "The infant mortality rate in captivity (“infant” defined here as an animal six months of age or younger, including near- to full-term pregnancies where the calf does not survive birth [stillbirths]) is approximately 50%. Infant mortality rate in the wild is actually unknown, as newborn calves are usually not seen until they are approximately six months of age and calves who die earlier than this will not be observed, but it may be similar. Given the intense veterinary oversight during pregnancy and birth, it is notable that the captive infant mortality rate is so high."

    http://www.orcanetwork.org/captivity/killercontroversy.pdf.

    christine mann
    christine mann subscriber

    @Martha Sullivan Martha Sullivan is a PAID activist. people should know this. She is paid quite well to pretend to care about this stuff. That's why her 'company' Apply Liberally LLC 'hosts' all these events. Her proile even admits she is a 'community organizer'. Have people not figured out the 'community organizer' sham yet? its a way to pay people to be 'grassroots'. Then you make th public tink there is legit out cry about something.


    This Sea World stuff is about 1 thing REAL ESTATE! Martha wants Sea World GONE. This is just step one. Her efforts to shut down san onorfre..also step one I a big 'ol real estate deal. why do you thing Di Fi and Boxer were so aggressive about shutting it down.


    Its time to start questioning these supposed activists. There are some legit ones, but these 'paid' grassroots' activists are ALL over SD infiltrating community groups. Yeah its easy to be 'active' in the community when you are being paid 6 figures.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    Well, I guess it's a compliment that my volunteer work looks like it's paid 6 figures :). Don't know where you got this idea, Christine Mann. As I have replied to you elsewhere online, I am an open book. I have lived on my savings and small investments for the past 13 years, since moving here to help care for my mother in late stage of Parkinson's. For 6 years, this has been modestly augmented by sales of fine art and collectibles through my online store, www.ApplyLiberallyEnterprises.com. Had one paid gig in 2012, managing a voter registration project targeting radio stations in the Southwest. Sorry to disappoint, but my story is quite mundane.

    The idea that anyone would try to shut down San Onofre in order to develop the land it sits on is ludicrous, as I have also pointed out to you elsewhere online. San Onofre will be a nuclear waste dump for the foreseeable future, and in any event, the U.S. Navy owns the land.

    The land thatSeaWorld sits on was given to the City if San Diego by the State Harbor Commission in the early 1900s with the condition that it be used for public recreation. A for-profit amusement park isn't most people's idea of "public recreation", but the land certainly can't be developed for more commercial use or for housing. Those of us advocating for the humane retirement of highly intelligent, socially sophisticated marine animals from entertaining in a wholly unnatural setting aren't calling for SeaWorld to shut down -- we are asking it to evolve with our times.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    Very nice Lisa. This reader appreciates this. Thanks

    Added to the benefit to the region would be the secondary businesses that support Sea World operations would be an interesting figure. Not sure how one would derive that figure but would guess it would be in the millions of commerce.

    BTW....Try not falling asleep reading the SEC filings though. They are good for that

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    The San Diego regional economy coud actually do BETTER without captive animal performers at SeaWorld. It is VERY telling that the amusement/entertainment parks that DON'T feature captive animal performers attract more visitors than SeaWorld: "Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park, both in Anaheim, and Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City all saw more visitors than either SeaWorld location in 2012, the report found." SeaWorld Entertainment would be much smarter to evolve its business model along with its customer base's growing commitment to wildlife and habitat conservation vs. exploitation. San Diego could be showcased as the first retirement sanctuary for SeaWorld marine animal performers, as envisioned by Dr. Naomi Rose: http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/24/opinion/blackfish-captive-orcas-solutions/index.html.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    The National Marine Fisheries Service is currently considering the release of captive orca Lolita from the Miami Seaquarium, since she is a member of the Southern Resident killer whale population designated Endangered Species in 2005. At 43, Lolita is the 2nd oldest orca surviving captivity after San Diego SeaWorld's Corky (44). Since the death of Hugo in 1980, Lolita has been living without the company of another orca -- truly torture for this very socially sophisticated species with lifelong family bonds. There is a retirement plan for her similar to the one proposed by Dr. Naomi Rose on CNN: http://www.onegreenplanet.org/animalsandnature/behind-the-scenes-of-orca-lolitas-retirement-plan/.

    Mark Giffin
    Mark Giffin subscribermember

    @Martha Sullivan  

    The market will determine if Sea World adjusts their business model..... not Dr. Rose or the the activists opposed to the Orcas in captivity.

    From my perspective Sea World is correct in countering the "blackfish" piece and should base their business  Decisions on what is best for their company and shareholders.

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    @Mark Giffin @Martha Sullivan  I agree, Mark -- and if SeaWorld has any business savvy, they'll notice that Disney and Universal Studios Hollywood attract more visitors WITHOUT featuring captive animal performers.  I've been through this with the defective San Onofre Nuclear Power Plant -- its majority owner-operator, SoCal Edison, finally after 1.5 years of a non-operating plant, admitted that an old nuclear power plant isn't best for its future business model.  SeaWorld can follow Edison's poor example and try to stave off the new reality.  Or it can embrace the 21st Century and be a hero -- to its shareholders as well as its customer base.  

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    @Jim Jones @Martha Sullivan But they don't define their brand, and they are not performing.  I'm not thrilled about any captive wild animal species.  But SeaWorld is captive wild animal species who must perform for their keep and have absolutely sterile, completely inadequate living space.  It's all the worst of captivity on steroids. 

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    @Jim Jones @Martha Sullivan  WHEN did that amusement park fail?  More than 50 years ago?  Don't see how that is relevant NOW.  Why does "it make more sense' to use captive performing wild animal species in conjunction with non-animal attractions? 

    christine mann
    christine mann subscriber

    @Jim Jones @Martha Sullivan Yeah OF COURSE she knows!! she wants Sea World to 'fail'. That's her job. I mean while we are at it lets have a zoo w/ no animals too. We can just put up cute photos everywhere. That will be great for tourism. Come to SD and look at all of our photos of animals.

    Susan Halliday
    Susan Halliday subscribermember

    Interesting that "the overarching goal of the institute [Hubbs-Sea World Research Institute] is to uncover solutions to deal with human activity that interferes or conflicts with marine animals".  Does this scrutiny apply to their own funder's interference with marine animals/mammals?

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    According to SeaWorld Entertainment's prospectus for its IPO last year, San Diego brings in about 20% of the total corporate revenue. So in 2013, San Diego SeaWorld generated about $280 Million for its parent. The $14 million Lisa reports here that San Diego SeaWorld paid for its profit off City land and water last year is 5% of those profits. SeaWorld pays no property tax, since it doesn't own the land, and it bragged in its IPO prospectus that it won't pay income taxes for several years. Sales taxes are paid by consumers and passed on by SeaWorld. So basically, the annual lease payment to the City constitutes the sum of the contribution to maintaining our local infrastructure made by this corporation making record profits using prime waterfront, publicly owned lands and waters. WooHoo!

    How much annual revenue do the 2 hotels cited in this article generate?

    Brant Will
    Brant Will subscribermember

    @Martha Sullivan  SeaWorld is the 10th largest property taxpayer in the City of San Diego.  Their property tax bill is a little more than $5,000,000.  

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    @Brant Will @Martha SullivanThat's not real property tax, Brant.  But a tax on equipment and the like.  So you're right -- they paid about $19 million in taxes in 2013 -- still only about 6.8% of revenue.  Not much for a $280 Million enterprise which is predicated on the use of prime, publicly-owned land and water.  Not to mention the money spent by the Tourism & Marketing District to promote it (on the order of $2 Million), and the infrastructure which serves it (roads, freeways). 

    Brant Will
    Brant Will subscribermember

    @Martha Sullivan  No, that's property tax. It has nothing to do with revenues, equipment or anything other than the assessed value of SeaWorld San Diego, which is $436,958,000 for 2014.  You can find the 2013 data on page 287 of the City's CAFR: http://www.sandiego.gov/comptroller/pdf/reports/cafr_2013.pdf

    It's okay to be wrong but you should be willing to admit when you've made an error with regard to fact.  

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    In its own words -- $10 million in 10 years, after $1.4 Billion revenue in 2013! Less than 0.001. What a conservation HERO! "Orlando, Fla. (September 2013) - Wild animals in need from around the world - from Antarctic penguins to sea turtle hatchlings on Florida's beaches - will benefit from more than $1.2 million in grants awarded this year by the non-profit SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Ninety-three wildlife research, habitat protection, animal rescue, and conservation education projects will benefit from the awards.

    These grants will support researchers who are studying migration movements of Antarctic penguin species, provide safer passage for turtle hatchlings making their way from the nest to the water, and help monitor the long-term health of dolphins in one of Florida's vital eco-systems.

    Since its inception 10 years ago, the Fund has granted more than $10 million in grants to protect wildlife and wild places."

    http://www.swbg-conservationfund.org/NewsEventsArticle.aspx?articleID=691

    Bit-watcher
    Bit-watcher subscriber

    @LisaHalverstadt @GabrielaDow

    How much the feds pay SeaWorld for the rescues should be available, shouldn't it?  What's that number?

    Martha Sullivan
    Martha Sullivan subscribermember

    Thanks for the hard data, Lisa, and for continuing this series. It is VERY telling that the amusement/entertainment parks that DON'T feature captive animal performers attract more visitors than SeaWorld: "Disneyland and Disney’s California Adventure Park, both in Anaheim, and Universal Studios Hollywood in Universal City all saw more visitors than either SeaWorld location in 2012, the report found." SeaWorld Entertainment would be much smarter to evolve its business model along with its customer base's growing commitment to wildlife and habitat conservation vs. exploitation. San Diego could be showcased as the first retirement sanctuary for SeaWorld marine animal performers, as envisioned by Dr. Naomi Rose: http://www.cnn.com/2013/10/24/opinion/blackfish-captive-orcas-solutions/index.html.

    Matty Azure
    Matty Azure subscriber

    Dear Lisa,

    You omitted one vital statistic: Murders.

    Signed,

    Dawn Brancheau