CEO of struggling SeaWorld to step aside

ORLANDO, Fla. - SeaWorld (SEAS) says its CEO is stepping down as head of the company and named its chairman as interim leader.

Jim Atchison has served as CEO and president of the theme park company since 2009. SeaWorld says he will become vice chairman. Chairman David D'Alessandro will take over as interim CEO in January.

Attendance is dropping at the Orlando, Florida-based company's theme parks. It has been battling negative publicity surrounding its treatment of killer whales following the documentary "Blackfish" that suggested its treatment of the animals may have led to the death of trainers.

The impact from the documentary continues to reverberate across the company. One state lawmaker introduced a bill this year that would ban live whale shows and force SeaWorld to relocate its whales to a larger pen. The legislation has been put on hold until next year.

SeaWorld also said Thursday that it will eliminate an unspecified number of jobs as it cuts costs. "In order to achieve the goals of our business realignment, we regret that some positions will necessarily be eliminated," the company said in the statement announcing Atchison's position change.

The stock rose nearly 3 percent in Thursday trading, closing up 45 cents to $16.09. Year-to-date, however the shares have lost more than 44 percent. When SeaWorld announced its disappointing third-quarter earnings in November -- earnings fell by 28 percent, and attendance across all the company's parks fell more than 5 percent to 8.4 million -- Atchison said: "Clearly, 2014 has failed to meet our expectations."

Now it will fall to a new CEO to repair the damage.