SeaWorld in the Sand? U.S. Theme Park Operator Mulls Mideast Expansion

SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.'s CEO announces it will work with an 'established' partner to assess viability of opening its first overseas venue.

A show featuring the whales during a visit to the animal theme park SeaWorld.
Visitors are greeted by an Orca killer whale as they attend a show featuring the whales during a visit to the animal theme park SeaWorld in San Diego, California March 19, 2014. Reuters

SeaWorld fans in the Middle East may soon be able to go to the theme park without flying all the way to Orlando. 

The CEO of U.S. theme park operator SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., Jim Atchinson, said Wednesday that the company had  "entered into an exclusive six-month memorandum of understanding" with "a partner who has an established track record of opening and operating world-class attractions."

Under the MOU, SeaWorld will assess the possibility of "a multi-park development in the Middle East."  

Atchinson made the comments on a call with analysts as the company reported on a tough first quarter, with an 11 percent drop in revenue compared to the first quarter of 2013, and net losses of $49.4 million. 

"We have worked diligently with our partner to identify the best theme park concepts and potential locations in the region and are moving forward into the next stage of the project," he said.

This would be first time the company opened a venue overseas, but this isn't the first time that SeaWorld has considered expanding into the region. In 2008, it announced plans to open a park complex in Dubai, called "Worlds of Discovery."  The complex would have included a SeaWorld, a Busch Gardens, a Discovery Cove and also a water park. In 2009, however, the company said that due to credit market conditions and the drop in oil prices, it had changed its mind. 

SeaWorld has been the subject of controversy since the release last year of the documentary "Blackfish," which slams the company's treatment of captive killer whales, or orcas.