Virgin Holidays has stopped selling tickets to SeaWorld after axing partnerships with attractions that keep whales and dolphins in captivity.
The tour operator says it is the right time to discontinue offering attractions featuring ‘close encounters’ with the creatures.
There are three SeaWorlds, in San Antonio, Orlando and San Diego. The decision means Virgin Holidays is scrapping ticket sales to the latter two, as San Antonio was not on its books. Offers for Discovery Cove in Orlando, the Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas and Atlantis The Palm in Dubai have also been removed.
Virgin Holidays has stopped selling tickets to SeaWorld after axing partnerships with attractions that keep whales and dolphins in captivity
Joe Thompson, managing director of Virgin Holidays, said that the firm wants to encourage customers to admire the animals in the wild from a distance instead.
He explained: ‘Virgin Holidays has decided to stop selling and promoting captive cetacean (whale and dolphin) experiences, as we look to focus on offering customers more natural, at-distance encounters with these animals.
‘This decision means that we will be ending our long term partnerships with the likes of SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and other similar facilities.
‘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.
‘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 decision to stop the sale and promotion of captive whale and dolphin attractions is something Virgin Holidays strongly believes in, and we know UK consumers feel the same.
Joe Thompson, managing director of Virgin Holidays, said that the firm wants to encourage customers to admire the animals in the wild from a distance instead. Pictured is a killer whale show at SeaWorld in Orlando in 2016
‘In our recent survey, 92 per cent of UK holidaymakers 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.’
The move by Virgin Holidays has been praised by animal rights campaigners.
Dylan Walker, CEO of World Cetacean Alliance, said: ‘History will show that this was absolutely the right decision by Virgin Holidays. Whales and dolphins are complex and intelligent animals whose needs can only be met in the wild.
‘To understand them involves seeing them in their ocean home, which is why we are extremely pleased that Virgin Holidays is committed to investing and supporting responsible wild whale and dolphin excursions moving forward.’
While Dr Jan-Schmidt Burbach, global wildlife advisor at World Animal Protection, said: ‘We are genuinely thrilled that Virgin Holidays is ending the sale and promotion of all captive whale and dolphin attractions and we hope that this very clear message will signal a shift in the holiday industry, in regards to working with captive animal entertainment facilities.’
Holiday companies have been under pressure to axe visits to places where orcas are kept in captivity following the release of the documentary Blackfish
Holiday companies have been under pressure to axe visits to places where orcas are kept in captivity after a public backlash in 2013 following the release of the documentary Blackfish.
The film argued that orcas held in captivity become more aggressive towards humans and each other.
After the release of the documentary, attendance at SeaWorld parks dipped, the company faced falling profits and Southwest Airlines ended its 25-year relationship with the theme park company.
In March 2017, SeaWorld’s CEO acknowledged that the public’s attitude had changed about keeping killer whales captive and that the company would end its orca breeding programme.
MailOnline Travel has approached SeaWorld for comment.