NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Shares of SeaWorld Entertainment (SEAS) - Get Report are retreating by 11.4% to $17.57 on heavy volume in early afternoon trading on Thursday, after the theme park company acknowledged on its earnings conference call that its employees had posed as animal activists in order to spy on the competition.

The war between animals for entertainment company SeaWorld and animal rights' activists has been raging for years. The debate over keeping intelligent marine mammals, such as orcas, the company's star attraction, in captivity hit the public eye following a 2013 documentary that was critical of SeaWorld's animal husbandry practices.

SeaWorld CEO Joel Manby read from a statement that the company plans to post online at some point today, acknowledging that SeaWorld employees had posed as animal rights activists, the Orlando Sentinel reports.

Manby has "directed management to end the practice in which certain employees posed as animal rights activists. This activity was undertaken in connection with efforts to maintain the safety and security of employees, customers and animals in the face of credible threats."

Last year the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals accused SeaWorld San Diego employee Paul McComb of pretending to be an activist in order to spy on the group. PETA is one of SeaWorld's loudest detractors.

Earlier today the company posted its 2015 fourth quarter earnings.

Separately, TheStreet Ratings has set a "hold" rating and a score of C- on SeaWorld Entertainment stock. The primary factors that have impacted the rating are mixed - some indicating strength, some showing weaknesses, with little evidence to justify the expectation of either a positive or negative performance for this stock relative to most other stocks.

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The company's strengths can be seen in multiple areas, such as its increase in net income, revenue growth and expanding profit margins. However, as a counter to these strengths, TheStreet Ratings also finds weaknesses including generally higher debt management risk, disappointing return on equity and a decline in the stock price during the past year.

TheStreet Ratings objectively rated this stock according to its "risk-adjusted" total return prospect over a 12-month investment horizon. Not based on the news in any given day, the rating may differ from Jim Cramer's view or that of this articles's author.

You can view the full analysis from the report here: SEAS

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