SeaWorld Orlando plans to tell its employees Wednesday that the popular water park and several others owned by Busch Entertainment, have been sold to the same company that owns half of Orlando, Central Florida News 13 is reporting. "That would be another huge deal they've been up for sale for a while," Robert Niles from Theme Park Insider told CFN 13. Insiders and experts said the most likely buyer is The Blackstone Group, a private equity firm that already owns half of Universal Studios. Rumours about a possible sale have circulated for months, but recently sources said high-ranking Blackstone officials have been spotted touring SeaWorld Orlando.
The Blackstone Group owns Merlin Entertainments Group Ltd, the largest operator of amusement parks and other attractions in Europe, and the second largest operating globally after Disney. Speculation intensified in recent weeks amid reports that Blackstone is preparing an initial public offering of its Merlin Group, whose holdings include Legoland theme parks, Madame Tussauds wax museums and the London Eye. Analysts say Blackstone could hope to make the Merlin public offering more attractive by acquiring the Busch parks and packaging them with Merlin in the offering or using the proceeds from the IPO to help finance a separate Busch purchase.
Merlin Entertainments has a very interesting policy on care of marine mammals:
Merlin Entertainments is the world's second largest visitor attraction operator with 58 attractions around the world, and the world's premier operator of aquaria through its SEA LIFE brand.
Merlin and SEA LIFE have an excellent record and reputation for the ethical and responsible care, preservation and conservation of the marine environment. This is demonstrated by the way in which our aquariums operate; our rescue, rehabilitation and release of marine animals in distress; and our SOS (Save Our Seas) programmes which have achieved significant global recognition and delivered real conservation successes. We also have very clear policies relating to the captivity, care and treatment of marine mammals such as dolphins and sea lions. Indeed in the case of cetaceans, we have a clear stated policy of concern as to their suitability as display animals, and the company has never condoned the capture of these creatures from the wild for entertainment purposes, or indeed at all.
That said, given Merlin's fast growth over the last 3 years, we have at times acquired businesses which historically have included shows which involve these creatures. In every case we have worked with experts to take immediate action, and develop plans which we believe are in the best interest of the animals involved. These have included the cessation of entertainment 'shows' involving the creatures - either entirely - as with the sea lion shows in Heide Park (Germany) and Gardaland (Italy); or by a complete change of content to ensure that in future any presentations are simply designed to highlight the creatures' more natural behaviour and instincts, and are purely educational.
We are never complacent however, and we are always mindful of our responsibilities to the welfare of the animals in our care, so this policy is constantly monitored. Simultaneously we have reviewed the environment and care of the creatures in every location, and where we do not believe this is adequate or appropriate we have acted decisively.
Merlin Entertainments is committed to ensuring the best possible welfare solution for the dolphins that have come into our care and has, therefore, joined with the Whale and Dolphin Conservation Society (WDCS) to evaluate all possible options for the future of the dolphins. We are aware that there is an ongoing debate about the viability of releasing captive cetaceans to the open sea, and so Merlin believes that all potential outcomes should be evaluated and considered.
To this end, Merlin has commissioned WDCS to undertake a feasibility study to evaluate all possible future scenarios, including rehabilitation, release and/or retirement of the dolphins to a bespoke natural facility or protected 'natural' retirement home. This project, coordinated by WDCS and involving global expertise, will ensure that the company has as much possible information on which to make a final decision on how best to secure the future for the dolphins currently in its care.
These statements could bring intriguing changes to SeaWorld, whether regarding the end of captures from the wild or the future of displaying cetaceans at all.
Sources: Orlando Sentinel, Merlin Entertainment