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PETA Aims to Free Willie

By Rich Duprey - Apr 22, 2013 at 5:00PM

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Animal rights organization buys stock in SeaWorld IPO.

This oughta be interesting. 

With the successful IPO of SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS 1.17%), the company will now have to jump through hoops for the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which took advantage of the public offering and bought a stake in the company. As PETA tells it, it did so for the express purpose of ending the "suffering endured by the orcas, dolphins, and other animals" at SeaWorld facilities.

By owning shares in the sea mammal entertainment provider, PETA can not only protest actions it thinks are cruel but it now has a voice at company shareholder meetings and can even submit resolutions for stockholders to vote on. Its first order of business, however, will be to free the orcas and dolphins "to coastal sanctuaries and, where possible, have them rehabilitated and released into the ocean."

SeaWorld, which is based in Orlando, Fla., went public at $27 a share and raised about $700 million. With the stock closing on Friday at $33.52, it has a market value north of $3 billion. The entertainment leader will still be majority-owned by private equity firm Blackstone (BX), which retained 10 million shares.

Although it's probably best known for its public stunts such as throwing paint on furs and having supermodels and celebrities pose nude, it's not the first time PETA has bought shares in a company in an effort to have an impact on company policy. Previously it bought a stake in McDonald's and promptly introduced a resolution to require its suppliers to upgrade their outdated slaughter practices. It's purchased shares in Kraft Foods, to pressure the company to phase in the purchase of pig meat from suppliers that don't confine pregnant sows to gestation crates, and in Philip Morris International to prevent testing on animals by having them forced to inhale smoke for months at a time. PETA owns stock in more than 80 meat producers, clothing retailers, fast-food and grocery chains, and pharmaceutical companies.

Besides three SeaWorld parks, the company owns two Busch Gardens parks, several water parks, and Sesame Place, an amusement park based on the children's TV show Sesame Street.

It seems doubtful that SeaWorld will free Willie, Shamu, or any other orca it has in its shows, but it's likely we'll see PETA force the theme park operator to jump through a few hoops of its own.

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