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SeaWorld CEO resigns after less than a year on the job

MIKE SCHNEIDER

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — The CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment stepped down Monday, just months into his tenure leading the theme park company.

Gustavo "Gus" Antorcha resigned from his job as the top executive at SeaWorld as well as his position on the company's board of directors.

"While I may have a difference of approach, I continue to believe in SeaWorld's strategy, mission, team and prospects," Antorcha said in a statement provided by the Orlando, Florida-based company.

Before taking over the helm of SeaWorld in February, Antorcha was a top executive at Carnival Cruise Lines. He succeeded Joel Manby, who unexpectedly departed in 2018 after beginning SeaWorld's pivot away from live animal shows following years of protests and declining attendance.

SeaWorld announced the end of its breeding program in March 2016, after years of pressure from animal rights advocates and shifting public opinion about orcas being held in captivity. The protests intensified after the release of the 2013 documentary "Blackfish," which focused on the life of Tilikum, a killer whale responsible for killing trainer Dawn Brancheau when he dragged her into a pool in front of shocked visitors in 2010.

The company in the past year, though, has seen a reversal of fortune. Attendance was up 8.6 percent during the 2018 fiscal year, as was revenue. For the first half of this year, attendance was up 1.7 percent.

"The strategy we have in place is working, and we have made significant progress," said Scott Ross, the chairman of SeaWorld's board of directors. "We look forward to continuing to execute on this strategy and driving a meaningful increase in value for all stakeholders."

The company operates 12 theme parks under the SeaWorld, Busch Gardens and Sesame Place brands in California, Florida, Pennsylvania, Texas and Virginia.

SeaWorld Chief Financial Officer Marc Swanson was named interim CEO while an executive search firm looks for a permanent successor. Swanson has been with SeaWorld for 19 years.

The company's chief accounting officer, Elizabeth Castro Gulacsy, will serve as interim chief financial officer, company officials said.

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