SeaWorld's CEO admitted Thursday that the company's employees have posed as animal rights activists in order to gain an upper hand on the opposition — and pledged it wouldn't happen again.
The company's first public admission, made during a quarterly earnings call with investors, comes after the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accused a SeaWorld San Diego worker of infiltrating the group to get intel and rile up members.
The Florida-based aquatic theme park said in a subsequent statement that management has ended the practice, which was done "in the face of credible threats that the company had received."
PETA first claimed last summer that SeaWorld employee Paul McComb joined the group as an agitator, and ended up picketing in front of the San Diego park and protesting against a SeaWorld Thanksgiving Day float in New York with other activists.
After his identity was exposed, McComb was placed on administrative leave during an internal investigation. But SeaWorld said Thursday he has been reinstated, to a different department.
The theme park has been trying to scrub up its family friendly image after the 2013 documentary "Blackfish" raised questions about the link between SeaWorld's orca whales being kept in captivity and their violent behavior.
Amid backlash and shrinking revenues, the company last fall said it will end its orca shows in San Diego by the end of this year. Last week, SeaWorld Entertainment also announced a reshuffling of its top executives.
In response to the company's admission Thursday, PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman accused the company of valuing its spies "more highly than the executives who have had their heads chopped off in droves, as at least one of the spies is still working at the company."
Reiman also said the company has to take responsibility for any financial failings. "The tawdry orca sideshows and despicable spying tactics are sinking SeaWorld's ship," she added.