The Virgin Pledge on Sea Mammals in 2014 was a positive, multi-stakeholder experience that led to significant steps forward in terms of the future for captive whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans). When we convened stakeholders around this commitment, we also said we’d explore a long term vision for captive cetaceans in tourism. This is the next stage in that journey.
Our vision is for a future in which tourism embraces the complex social and physical needs of cetaceans and their habitats.
There have been significant advances since 2014 that we warmly welcome. In particular, the announcement from National Aquarium Baltimore about relocation of their dolphins to coastal sanctuaries stands out as a milestone.
We want to encourage change. Taking all cetacean attractions off sale might be an easier option but this doesn’t address the needs of the animals currently in captivity. There is currently a lack of alternative facilities and we want to ensure that any changes are handled sensitively, humanely and at the right pace. It would also take us out of the debate and we’d lose the ability to influence the direction of travel. We recognise that there are still many complexities, not least being able to continue to work with our existing partners to encourage positive change. With that in mind:
1. We will not sign up any new attractions that features captive whales and dolphins for theatrical shows, contact sessions (such as ‘swim-with’ programmes) or other entertainment purposes;
2. We will work closely with existing partners to encourage evolution of their product offering to reflect changing consumer tastes, and ensure compliance with the Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism – developed by our trade association, ABTA, together with The European Association of Zoos and Aquaria, The International Zoo Veterinary Group and respected NGOs;
3. We will support the creation of coastal sanctuaries for whales and dolphins and promote conservation in their natural habitats through an annual donation supporting Virgin Holiday’s long term vision for captive cetaceans in tourism
4. We will offer customers more choice in the regions in which we operate, such as promoting responsible wild whale and dolphin watching and sanctuary-based experiences (when these become available);
5. We will support international co-operation to end the capture of wild cetaceans, and discourage the building of new attractions, where cetaceans will be used for theatrical, contact or other entertainment purposes.
We recognise that animal welfare doesn’t end here: many other species are implicated. There’s lots to do and we are keen to start with cetaceans, but over time we will work to extend our principles to other animals.