Last week Virgin Group founder Richard Branson announced in a blog post that Virgin Holidays will end the sales and promotion of tourism attractions that involve captive cetaceans, such as whales and dolphins. Branson stated that “We felt strongly this was the right thing to do and we knew most of our customers supported it, too. Many no longer consider whale and dolphin shows and ‘swim withs’ to be appropriate, and most would rather enjoy these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.” As such, Virgin Holidays will end its relationship with theme parks such as Sea World.
A Natural Next Step: In 2014 Virgin announced the Virgin Pledge which was a commitment that Virgin businesses will only continue to work with suppliers that don’t take whales and dolphins from the wild. Then in In 2017, Virgin Holidays took the next step and announced that it would not add any new attractions featuring captive whales and dolphins to its portfolio and would encourage its guests to support alternatives to captive experiences.
The Plan: As CNN explained, “the move by Virgin Holidays is part of a five-year campaign that works with activists, scientists, tourism operators, and organizations to raise standards in animal welfare in the tourism industry. Instead of seeking an immediate shutdown of existing theme parks, the plan is to support ethical sanctuaries and thereby encourage other parks to change their practices.”
Sea World Responds: Although SeaWorld put out a press statement saying that it was “disappointing to see Virgin Holidays succumb to pressure from animal activists who mislead and manipulate marine mammal science to advance their agendas,” groups like the Humane Society have made it clear that they believe whales and dolphins are “best seen in their natural coastal and ocean environments instead of being held captive simply to entertain people.”
Why This Matters: Six years after the documentary Blackfish sparked outrage around the world at the condition that captive whales and dolphins have to endure, tourists and travelers are seeking more humane experiences when interacting with animals at zoos and theme parks. Animals welfare group PETA has applauded Virgin’s decision and has been encouraging other tourism companies to do the same, recently urging Florida AAA to also stop doing business with SeaWorld. Some aquariums like the National Aquarium have pledged to relocate their dolphins into a wildlife sanctuary, though they’ve had trouble finding an adequate location for the sanctuary due to climate change and pollution.