SeaWorld admits planting worker to spy on PETA

Company vows to end practice

ORLANDO, Fla. – SeaWorld is acknowledging that it sent a worker to infiltrate an animal rights group which opposed the theme park.

[RELATED:  SeaWorld earnings report shows stock down]

SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Joel Manby said Thursday that the company will no longer use such practices to spy on opponents.

"This activity was undertaken in connection with efforts to maintain the safety and security of employees, customers and animals in the face of credible threats," Manby said.

Manby says that the company is hiring an outside firm to review its security practices.

SeaWorld San Diego worker Paul McComb was suspended last summer after People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said he had tried to incite violence among peaceful protesters while posing as an activist. The company said Thursday that McComb is still employed by SeaWorld.

PETA said that McComb, who had used the name Thomas Jones while infiltrating the group, had tried to incite its members to break the law, posting inflammatory messages on social media such as "burn [SeaWorld] to the ground" and "drain the new tanks at #SeaWorld." He had urged other SeaWorld protesters to "get a little aggressive," to engage in "direct action."

The animal rights group, better known by its acronym, PETA, said that SeaWorld's refusal to fire McComb shows that it condones corporate spying.

"The tawdry orca sideshows and despicable spying tactics are sinking SeaWorld's ship," said PETA's statement in response to the company's announcement.

This is the first time that SeaWorld has publicly admitted that its employees did pose as animal rights activists.

SeaWorld has faced declining sales in recent years amid criticisms of its practices. An unflattering documentary called "Blackfish" aired in theaters in the summer of 2013 and then on CNN in the fall of that year. In the face of that criticism, SeaWorld said last fall it will end the orca shows at its San Diego park by the end of this year.

SeaWorld also announced that it has hired Freeh Group International Solutions, a firm headed by former FBI Director Louis Freeh, to help vet its security practices

Seaworld Entertainment Inc. (SEAS) | FindTheCompany