In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, mom and baby killer whale swim together at SeaWorld San Diego's Shamu Stadium in San Diego, California.
 In this handout photo provided by SeaWorld San Diego, mom and baby killer whale swim together at SeaWorld San Diego's Shamu Stadium in San Diego, California. - 
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SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment put out its quarterly earnings Thursday morning. The company has had a tough time in recent years. Longstanding criticism from animal rights activists found a whole new audience with the release of the 2013 documentary “Blackfish,” which brought allegations of killer whale mistreatment to the mainstream. Now, with a new CEO and a pile of money spent on marketing and PR, the theme park company is trying to move forward.

 

(Janet Nguyen/Marketplace)

 

SeaWorld’s ticket sales suffered when the documentary was hot. The park has seen some attendance recovery, but new troubles keep multiplying. Right now, California regulators say SeaWorld’s San Diego facility can only expand if SeaWorld stops breeding killer whales. The company’s fighting back, but even if it wins, it can still lose.

“This could spark a whole new round of publicity around the animal presence,” said Barton Crockett, who tracks the company for the investment bank FBR. “There’s a fair question to be asked about whether the SeaWorld kind of noise is overshadowing what I think has been a pretty good performance at Busch Gardens.”

Recently, the company has tried to emphasize that and spend more time talking about other parts of its portfolio, like the water park Adventure Island.

And there is perhaps the one factor that companies can often rely on when weathering a big public controversy: time.

“The good news for SeaWorld is that Americans in particular have pretty short memories,” said Paul Argenti, professor of corporate communications at Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business. “It’ll be forgotten.”

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Follow Mark Garrison at @GarrisonMark