Virgin Holidays stops selling tickets for captive whale and dolphin attractions

Tour operator cuts partnership with SeaWorld

Helen Coffey
Tuesday 16 July 2019 14:57 BST
Two killer whales at SeaWorld, including Tilikum, the star of Blackfish, who died just over a year ago
Two killer whales at SeaWorld, including Tilikum, the star of Blackfish, who died just over a year ago

Virgin Holidays has announced it will stop offering and promoting excursions to attractions and experiences featuring captive whales and dolphins.

The tour operator said it will prioritise more natural wildlife encounters instead, while cutting longstanding ties with SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and similar attractions.

“This decision follows steps that Virgin Holidays embarked upon in 2014, when we announced the Virgin Pledge to only work with facilities that committed to not taking animals from the wild, and our updated position in 2017, when we announced a number of new steps to evolve the customer offering towards more natural encounters with these captivating animals,” said Joe Thompson, managing director of Virgin Holidays.

“Following further developments, we have now decided the time is right to discontinue offering attractions featuring close encounters with captive whales and dolphins.

“We will instead focus our efforts on encouraging customers to see these creatures in the wild. We will also continue our efforts to support the development of sanctuaries for whales and dolphins currently in captivity.”

The move seems to be one that UK holidaymakers will approve of, following a Virgin Holidays survey in which 92 per cent of respondents said they prefer to see animals in their natural habitat.

“We want to actively support this direction by encouraging more responsible wild watching, which puts animal welfare at the heart of things, meaning our customers get to experience these amazing animals with peace of mind and future generations can enjoy these wonderful experiences too,” added Thompson.

The ban on captive cetacean attractions will come into effect as soon as possible, according to the company. By 31 July at the latest, Virgin Holidays will no longer be selling tickets to these experiences.

A SeaWorld spokesperson told The Independent the attraction is “disappointed” by the decision.

“It is disappointing to see Virgin Holidays succumb to pressure from animal activists who mislead and manipulate marine mammal science to advance their agendas,” they said.

“Virgin’s own corporate mission is having a measurable purpose that positively impacts communities and the environment. SeaWorld is the epitome of that mission. With more than 35,000 animal rescues and decades of meaningful scientific contributions, we are proud to be a recognised global leader in marine mammal science, education and, in particular, providing preeminent care to all of our marine mammals.

“With rising threats to our oceans and their inhabitants, supporting independently accredited zoological facilities is more important than ever. No company does more to protect marine mammals and advance cetacean research, rescue and conservation than SeaWorld.”

Virgin Holidays has invested $100,000 to support a pioneering project from the National Aquarium in Baltimore, US, which will relocate their captive dolphins to a bigger, more natural coastal sanctuary, set to open in 2021.

The brand has also partnered with the World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) to promote its Guidelines for Responsible Whale and Dolphin Watching and share its knowledge and training in responsible whale and dolphin practices with local tour operators.

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