For years, Sea World and other aquatic theme parks have built a business by keeping whales, dolphins and other sea animals in captivity. While their live shows have made them popular tourist attractions and vacation destinations.
However, Sea World’s treatment of its whales has long been a subject of scrutiny and controversy, and there has been increasing public pressure for the park to change.
Now, one major tour company has taken a decisive stand, hitting these companies where it hurts and hopefully inspiring some real change.
Virgin Holidays, the British travel company owned by Richard Branson, announced on July 15 that they would no longer sell or promote attractions that keep cetaceans—such as whales and dolphins—in captivity.
It follows a pledge the company took in 2014 to only continue working with companies that did not capture cetaceans from the wild. This followed conversations with both animal activists and marine park organizations—as well as a campaign from the Whale and Dolphin Conservation that specifically targeted Branson.
“For all of us at Virgin, the announcement marks the most significant milestone yet on a five-year journey to drive positive change in the tourism industry,” Branson wrote in the announcement. “We knew then it was going to be the first step in a long journey to end the use of captive cetaceans for human entertainment.”
Wonderful to see Virgin Holidays announcing that it will end the sales and promotion of tourism attractions that involve captive cetaceans, such as whales and dolphins https://virg.in/wsV
In 2017, the company stopped taking on new businesses that held captured whales, and encouraged businesses to adapt to standard practices of animal welfare.
It’s not a simple matter of setting the whales free—many have lived their lives in captivity and wouldn’t survive in the wild—so Virgin also supported a project by National Aquarium in Baltimore to build a bigger, more natural habitat for their captive dolphins, set to open in 2021.
This marks Virgin cutting ties with affiliates like SeaWorld and Discovery Cove, which the WDC sees as a major victory:
“Virgin Holidays finally cutting ties with facilities holding whales and dolphins in captivity is a great campaign victory for us but also a massive statement to the holiday industry,” WDC end-captivity campaigner Cathy Williamson said, while also calling on other tour companies to follow suit.
Not that the company doesn’t want customers experiencing these amazing animals—they just want them to do it in a more ethical way.
“We will instead focus our efforts on encouraging customers to see these creatures in the wild,” Virgin Holidays managing directorJoe Thompson told The Independent. “We will also continue our efforts to support the development of sanctuaries for whales and dolphins currently in captivity.”
“Ultimately, Virgin Holidays plans to offer customers a world class, wild whale and dolphin tour portfolio meeting the highest ethical standards for the animals while creating a richer animal encounter experience for customers,” Branson wrote.
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