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Our long term vision for cetaceans in tourism

Virgin Holidays’ position on holidays involving captive whales and dolphins


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.

Living up to our commitment

In 2017 we said:

  1. We will not sign up any new attractions that features captive whales and dolphins for theatrical shows, contact sessions (such as ‘swim-with’ programs) 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.

Our latest 2017-2018 actions:

  1. We are not selling or promoting any new attractions or hotels featuring captive whales and dolphins;
  2. We are working closely with various captive cetacean facilities to encourage higher standards of animal welfare for those animals in their care, ensuring that all, at minimum, will meet the ABTA guidelines;
  3. We have made a US$300,000 investment in a world-leading project from The National Aquarium of Baltimore to relocate its captive dolphins to a much more natural coastal sanctuary in Florida;
  4. We have launched a partnership with the World Cetacean Alliance to launch global guidelines for responsible wild whale and dolphin watching and train operators to meet these guidelines;
  5. We continue to work with ABTA and partners to discourage the building of new captive cetacean attractions.

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:


World Cetacean Alliance

World Cetacean Alliance

We are also supporting the development of more opportunities for responsible wild watching of whales and dolphins. Virgin Holidays has committed to a two-year partnership with the World Cetacean Alliance that will roll out the Responsible Whale Watching Guidelines, that were agreed at the World Whale Conference in South Africa in 2017, to all Virgin Holidays whale and dolphin watching operators.

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: