The Other Side of The News: Farewell to SeaWorld Edition


Starting off:


Recently, the Orlando Weekly published a piece from contributor Ken Storey about Falcon’s Creative’s new partnership with China-based Harves Entertainment. Unfortunately, the piece comes across as a fanboy love letter to Falcon’s.

Visual approximation of a fanboy reading a Falcon’s Creative press release

Now, there’s nothing wrong with that. Falcon’s is a rather remarkable company with some fantastic projects under its wings, including a few that I can’t mention due to non-disclosure commitments, but if I did mention them, you’d be blown away, saying something like, “Wow. I never knew Falcon’s worked on that.” Or at least Ken would. Falcon’s is also one of my favorite companies pioneering the use of mixed reality. And I have no doubt they’ll soon take on Thinkwell Group and the late Marty Sklar in reinventing healthcare. It’s inevitable.

But there’s a story behind the Falcon’s-Harves partnership and it starts in 1987. It was in that pivotal year, when I was working through my Aviculture internship at the SeaWorld San Diego birdhouse, that a young man was working as a supervisor on the park’s Skyride, about a thousand feet away.

That young man was preparing for a promotion as the company opened its fourth SeaWorld park in San Antonio. In 1988, he would become an Operations Supervisor in San Antonio, part of the park’s opening crew.

Over the years, he worked his way up through the ranks, becoming a Vice President of Operations at a number of SeaWorld and Busch Gardens parks, eventually serving as the Corporate Vice President of Operations. In his various positions, he solidified a strong working relationship with the company’s various vendors, including Falcon’s Treehouse, now known as Falcon’s Creative. The relationship he had with Falcon’s was necessary as they were lead designers on major attractions that opened at parks where he was in charge of operations – DarKastle at Busch Gardens Williamsburg and, later, Turtle Trek and Antarctica in Orlando.

This young man had a huge impact on the company’s international plans. He led the design team behind the company’s planned multi-park resort in Dubai. In the mid-2010’s, he served as the company’s point person for possible projects in Asia.

Doug Stagner

Then, at the end of 2016, that young man, Doug Stagner, left the company. A month later, Stagner took on the highly respected role of Chief Operating Officer of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, the largest international trade association of its kind, with more than 5300 members in more than 100 countries.

But then something took place under the radar and without fanfare. There were no press releases. There were no media alerts. In October 2018, Stagner suddenly left IAAPA. Three months later, he was President of Harves Entertainment.

In his story, Storey states:  “The attraction and media design firm, that is known for their cool office, has now netted another extraordinary partnership that will ensure work for the company for years to come.”

The story behind the Storey story is that it’s all due to knowing the right guy in the right place at the right time. Because that’s how the themed entertainment industry works.


“A friend of mine, Warren Lemming, has this theory: if you’re famous, it’s as if you’ve got a golden monkey on your shoulder. When people come up to talk to you, they just see the monkey.”
― Heathcote Williams


John Hargrove. I have been accused of hating the Blackfish star and author of Beneath the Surface because I consistently critique him. In all honesty, there’s no reason for me to hate him – he’s done nothing to personally wrong me. BUT….as a film star and best selling author, he’s a celebrity, and the public actions and statements of celebrities are open for critique.

And boy, John is like the Christmas gift that keeps on giving.


On April 8, Hargrove tweeted about the march of 400 animal rights protesters through the streets of Havana, Cuba.


Pardon me, I stand corrected. Savana, Cuba.

Two days later, a momentous moment took place when the Russian government agreed to release 10 orcas and 87 beluga illegally captured and held at a facility in Nakhodka. This would prove to be the opportunity of a lifetime for the anti-captivity orca crusader to be in the limelight, helping prepare all these cetaceans for release.


But he’s remained mum on the planned release. Here’s why:

The Russian government signed its agreement with the Ocean Futures Society and the Whale Sanctuary Project to oversee the release.

So, to put things in context, take a look at this previous post, because we’ll need to go back to events that took place in September of last year (feel free to just scroll down to the tweets – everything you need is there):


Now, it’s safe to say that John most likely won’t be participating in the Russian whale releases. He’s pretty much screwed over that opportunity. There are those who have argued that John’s sentiments about SeaWorld’s involvement in the rescue of J50 is based on their historic decimation of the Southern Resident population. I don’t believe that. If you go back through Hargrove’s writings, video interviews, and statements from the moment he left SeaWorld, his ire against the company is a personal hatred for how he believes it has treated him and “his” orcas  (he often writes about the orcas he worked with in the possessive).

So, for tweeting without thinking of the long-term consequences, we award John Hargrove the Jussie Smollett Award for Animal Rights Activism. We’d send a MAGA hat, but we’re pretty sure he already owns a bunch of those.


Follow the timeline:

March 19: In a press release and SEC filing, SeaWorld announces the resignation of Chief Operating Officer John Reilly, effective March 31. The SEC filing also states that Kathleen Liever, the Senior Vice President of Human Resources will resign from her position on March 31.

April 5: The SeaWorld executive overseeing Brazilian sales leaves the company.

April 8: The SeaWorld executive overseeing strategic partnerships leaves the company.

April 12: Around 90 staff members company-wide are laid off, including trainers, aviculturists (bird keepers), and the remaining Animal Ambassadors.

April 15: In an SEC filing at the close of market, SeaWorld indicates that two board members, Don Robinson, the company’s Independent Lead Director, and Deborah Thomas, will resign immediately after the annual shareholders’ meeting. Robinson has a storied career with Disney, having served in executive management for the company in its parks and resorts in Florida and Asia. Thomas is the Chief Financial Officer of Hasbro.

What does this all mean? While I refuse to FLIP on what my sources are telling me, I can assure that at this time next year, SeaWorld Entertainment will be a very different company than it is now.


On May 1, the ThemedReality blog will be taken offline. All existing content will be transferred to the Final Days blog, which will continue operating as it currently is. The Facebook and twitter accounts will also continue to operate as they currently are. ThemedReality will return later in May with a new direction, new content, and a new look better suited to serving and covering the themed entertainment industry.

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