February 27, 2020

Whale of an Offer: Buy SeaWorld, Free Animals

Orlando Sentinel | 8/20/2008
Forget about freeing just Willy. An animal-rights group says a supporter wants to buy one or more SeaWorlds from the theme parks' soon-to-be new owner so it can free all the animals, even killer whales.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says an undisclosed donor wants to buy at least one SeaWorld park, then free the animals and replace them with virtual-reality or animatronic displays.

"We are very interested in this offer because the intelligent, social animals imprisoned at SeaWorld are . . . denied everything that is natural and important to them -- all in the name of 'entertainment,' " PETA wrote Aug. 14 to Carlos Brito, CEO of InBev NV/SA. Belgium-based InBev, one of the world's largest brewers, is to acquire the SeaWorld parks as part of its $52 billion acquisition of Anheuser-Busch Cos.

PETA spokeswoman Lisa Wathne said the Norfolk, Va., group's donor wants to remain anonymous and doesn't want to disclose how much he could pony up. "We don't know how high this donor will go, but he is serious. Whales, dolphins and other marine life are very important to him," she said.

An orca's freedom won't come cheap: Stock analyst Jack Russo of Edward D. Jones & Co. said Busch Entertainment Corp., Anheuser-Busch's Orlando-based theme-park unit, could be worth $5 billion or $6 billion. In 2001, the company sold SeaWorld Ohio for $110 million.

Fred Jacobs, a Busch Entertainment spokesman, said allegations of animal cruelty are unfounded. He termed the offer "a publicity stunt."

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