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Southwest Airlines, SeaWorld to end marketing partnership

TAMPA Fla. (Reuters) - Southwest Airlines and SeaWorld said on Thursday they are ending a longtime marketing partnership, as the airline faces pressure from animal rights groups critical of the marine life conditions at its popular tourist attractions.

The companies called it a mutual decision to drop the contract when it expires at the end of the year. SeaWorld Entertainment Inc and Southwest Airlines Co began joint promotions in 1988.

"The companies decided not to renew the contract based on shifting priorities," they said in a joint statement.

Southwest now wants to focus on international services and local market efforts, while SeaWorld is looking to new markets in Latin America and Asia, they said.

The announcement followed a petition drive by animal rights activists asking the airline to end the partnership.

SeaWorld has faced increasing scrutiny over conditions for its killer whales, following last year's broadcast of the documentary "Blackfish," telling the story of an orca that killed a trainer at SeaWorld's park in Orlando, Florida, in 2010.

SeaWorld also has theme parks in California and Texas.

The companies said they would continue to work together through Southwest Vacations.

(Reporting by Letitia Stein; Editing by Eric Walsh)