Shamu is headed to China.

Private-equity group Blackstone has agreed to sell its 21 per cent stake in SeaWorld to a wholly owned subsidiary of China’s Zhonghong Zhuoye Group Co Ltd, in a deal set to bring the US marine theme park to China for the first time.

SeaWorld announced the deal on Friday, saying that Zhonghong would pay $23 a share, nearly 33 per cent above its Thursday closing price of $17.31. SeaWorld shares were up nearly 15 per cent in pre-market trading.

Once the transaction closes, SeaWorld said it would increase its board to 11 members, including two Zhonghong Group executives. Zhonghong has also agreed to certain restrictions on selling its interest for two years, as well as its ability to acquire more than 24.9 per cent of SeaWorld’s outstanding shares without approval from the company’s independent directors.

Yoshikazu Maruyama, president of Zhonghong Group’s American operations, said that the company was “delighted to engage with SeaWorld to bring this iconic, world-class family entertainment brand to China.”

He added:

Zhonghong Group hopes to contribute our experience and resources in global tourism and project development to enhance long-term value to all of SeaWorld’s shareholders. We look forward to a highly collaborative relationship and to serve as a key partner to grow its business and further its mission.

SeaWorld currently has 12 theme parks located across the US. In recent years, its share price has taken a hit as it weathered controversy about its treatment of captive killer whales, long one of its main attractions.

The deal is expected to close in the second quarter this year.

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