(Bloomberg) -- SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., the theme-park operator battling criticism over its use of killer whales as attractions, kicked off its biggest rally in five years after attendance rebounded last quarter.
The company also posted a smaller loss than Wall Street expected, helping fuel hopes that the embattled brand is forging a turnaround. The shares surged as much as 17 percent to $18.50, the biggest intraday gain since April 2013.
SeaWorld had seen visitor traffic slide after the 2013 documentary “Blackfish” criticized its treatment of orcas. As part of its comeback plan, the company has ended orca breeding at its parks and introduced new attractions such as roller coasters that don’t involve animals.
Attendance at the Orlando, Florida-based company rose 15 percent to 3.2 million guests in the quarter ended March 31, helped by a relatively early Easter holiday. The loss amounted to 73 cents a share, compared with an estimated 76-cent deficit.
Sales also beat projections, climbing 17 percent to $217.2 million.
Even before Tuesday’s stock surge the shares were up 17 percent this year
The company also weathered a leadership shake-up in recent months. Chief Executive Officer Joel Manby, who was brought in three years ago to execute a turnaround, was replaced in February by Chief Parks Operations Officer John Reilly on an interim basis.
SeaWorld’s results followed similarly strong numbers from other theme-park operators. In addition to getting a bump from the timing of Easter, companies have been keeping their facilities open all year around, drawing in customers with special events and selling more annual passes.
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