For many years Virgin has taken an active role in shaping a long term vision for captive cetaceans in tourism. Starting in 2014 with The Virgin Pledge on Sea Mammals, the result of a positive, multi-stakeholder experience, that led to a shared commitment for the protection and conservation of the oceans for future generations and an agreement not to take any new whales, dolphins and porpoises (collectively known as cetaceans) from the wild.
After the Pledge followed more detailed work behind the scenes to continue to review developments and plan next steps. This resulted in our updated commitment and vision in 2017.
Our vision is that the way tourists interact with whales and dolphins needs to change.
We are committed to drive change, working with our partners, experts and other interested parties, shaping a future of wildlife tourism that embraces the complex social and physical needs of cetaceans and their habitats, as well as creating enriching and enjoyable experiences that transform the way customers engage with and learn about the oceans and marine life.
In 2017 we said:
Our latest 2017-2018 actions:
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.
Virgin Holidays is investing US$300,000 with the non-profit, US National Aquarium in Baltimore to support the creation of North America’s first dolphin sanctuary and the move of its seven captive dolphins (Jade, Spirit, Maya, Bayley, Chesapeake, Foster and Beau) from their indoor dolphinarium to a more natural outdoors environment. The exact location of the sanctuary is yet to be determined but site selection is focused on Florida. The sanctuary will provide the dolphins with a much bigger living space and be located near the coast. It will give the animals the chance to experience a far more natural habitat with exposure to ocean tides, temperature variations, and other ocean life such as fish, crabs and seaweed. We have spent the previous year assessing the various sanctuary projects in development around the world, and after consultation with experts decided on the National Aquarium’s ground-breaking initiative.
One of the major dilemmas for the tourism industry is the argument over whether those whales and dolphins currently in captivity can thrive in more natural settings – and Virgin Holidays and the National Aquarium hope this new project will show that more natural alternatives are viable. Virgin Holidays is the number one British tour operator to Florida, and is hopeful that this sanctuary and the others in development will lead to a significant industry shift in the way tourists interact with these complex animals.
The Aquarium has now embarked on a three-year acclimatisation programme to teach their dolphins new behaviours and prepare them for the eventual move. This includes encouraging them to drink water so their system can be flushed if they eat the wrong thing, raising the temperature in the tank to 26 degrees Celsius and allowing algae to grow, and teaching them to swim onto stretchers so the eventual transportation to their new home is successful. To find out more visit: www.aqua.org/sanctuary
The National Aquarium Dolphin Sanctuary is complemented by a separate initiative that encourages the development of responsible wild whale and dolphin watching. Virgin Holidays has committed to a two-year partnership with the World Cetacean Alliance that will see the Responsible Whale Watching Guidelines agreed at the World Whale Conference in South Africa in 2017, rolled out to all relevant Virgin Holidays Whale watching suppliers.
These suppliers will be encouraged to enhance the experience for customers by educating them about the marine environment while keeping a respectful distance from the animals. They will also be given the opportunity to get involved in research projects to track the health and distribution of cetacean populations. For more information on the World Cetacean Alliance: http://worldcetaceanalliance.org/sustainable-cetacean-tourism