Virgin Holidays Decision Undermines Conservation Work of Marine Parks

22 Jul 2019

SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment's statement on Virgin Holidays decision to no longer sell tickets to facilities with dolphins, whales, and porpoises:

It is disappointing to see Virgin Holidays succumb to pressure from animal activists who mislead and manipulate marine mammal science to advance their agendas.

"It is disappointing to see Virgin Holidays succumb to pressure from animal activists who mislead and manipulate marine mammal science to advance their agendas.

Virgin’s own corporate mission is having a measurable purpose that positively impacts communities and the environment. SeaWorld is the epitome of that mission. With more than 35,000 animal rescues and decades of meaningful scientific contributions, we are proud to be a recognised global leader in marine mammal science, education and, in particular, providing preeminent care to all of our marine mammals.

With rising threats to our oceans and their inhabitants, supporting independently accredited zoological facilities is more important than ever.

With rising threats to our oceans and their inhabitants, supporting independently accredited zoological facilities is more important than ever. No company does more to protect marine mammals and advance cetacean research, rescue and conservation than SeaWorld."

Read what others are saying about Virgin Holidays decision:

Virgin Holidays’ Decision On Marine Mammal Visits Is Misguided And Wrong

“Virgin Holidays’ decision to no longer sell tickets to facilities with dolphins, whales, and porpoises is misguided and wrong. Marine mammals can live humanely in human care when following established animal welfare measures that help ensure proper treatment.”

“American Humane, the country’s first, national humane group and the world’s largest certifier of animal welfare and well-being, conducted independent reviews of SeaWorld and Discovery Cove, both of which passed our rigorous certification assessment audits. Virgin is wrong on this issue and apparently made its decision absent any science or real expertise. Virgin’s ethically driven customers should be disappointed that the company’s decision will negatively impact conservation efforts and hinder efforts to educate and inspire thousands of children about the importance of marine mammal protection, environmentalism and conservation.”

American Humane

Virgin Holidays Decision Undermines Conservation Work of Marine Parks

Virgin Holidays’ Pandering to Animal Rights Extremists is Unfortunate; Missed Opportunity to Support Work that Is Helping Animals in the Wild

It’s sad and unfortunate to see Virgin Holidays use its brand and resources to attack world-class, accredited aquariums and marine parks and undermine their work to educate people about marine mammals, study them, and conserve them in the wild. The company could have made a real difference for whale and dolphin conservation by supporting that work and spearheading new efforts to help imperilled animals in the wild but instead chose to try to appease animal rights extremists by severing its long-standing partnerships with zoological facilities that display cetaceans and supporting the creation of ill-conceived, activist-run “sea sanctuaries.”

Just a few years ago, after visiting marine parks to learn about their work and standards, Virgin Holidays assured the leaders of the aquariums and marine parks it partners with that it understands the education, conservation and research benefits of having whales and dolphins on public display. The London-based travel company even went so far as to reveal that their own polling showed Virgin Holidays’ customers overwhelmingly expressed a strong desire to experience marine mammal interactions at their facilities. Now, on the receiving end of pressure campaigns from PETA and similar groups making allegations not supported by science, Virgin Holidays has changed its mind and flip-flopped on its position, despite the lack of scientific support for activist allegations about marine mammals in zoological facilities. Or it was disingenuous with its partners from the beginning about its ultimate intent.

The accredited zoological facilities Virgin Holidays sells tickets to are among the best and most experienced in the world at what they do. For decades, the scientific, behavioral, and veterinary experts at these facilities have worked hard to enhance animal welfare, and as a result, animals in human care are thriving. It is ironic that a travel agency and its affiliated extremist organizations with no zoological expertise are attempting to tell the real experts how to “evolve” their product offerings, care for their animals, and improve their standards.

Whales and dolphins at high-quality, accredited facilities live long and healthy lives. Recent published studies show dolphins and whales in these facilities live as long as or longer than their counterparts in the wild. They receive high-quality food, veterinary care, exercise, and behavioral enrichment, and their survival, health, and stress levels are the same as or better than their counterparts in the wild.

Contrary to the allegations of pressure groups campaigning for “sea sanctuaries,” there are no scientific studies suggesting that dolphins in marine mammal facilities are more prone to disease than dolphins in the wild. Instead, recent studies have shown that the immune systems of wild dolphins are much more challenged than the immune systems of dolphins in human care. There also are no scientific studies suggesting that dolphins in marine mammal facilities are any more stressed than dolphins in the wild. To the contrary, studies have shown that cortisol levels (i.e., the "stress hormone") of dolphins in marine mammal facilities are either very similar to, or lower than, cortisol levels of wild dolphins, depending on the sampling technique. Currently across the territorial waters of the U.S., from the Atlantic Ocean to the Gulf of Mexico and all along the Pacific coastline, the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Services has issued a series of Unusual Mortality Events for several species of marine mammals. With marine mammals in the wild facing unprecedented threats from prey scarcity, ship strikes, natural and manmade toxins, entanglement in fishing gear and other marine debris, zoos and aquariums are doing their part to study these threats and find ways to combat them. They are also working to rescue and rehabilitate thousands of sick and injured animals in the wild each year. If Virgin Holidays can’t help with this work, it should at least not impede it.

We appreciate all of our travel partners that value and understand the critical importance of the scientific research, public education, and conservation work done in zoos and aquariums, and we will continue to work with them in good faith.

Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks & Aquariums

AZA Statement on Virgin Travel’s New Animal Encounter Booking Policy

Virgin Holidays, a United Kingdom-based travel company, today announced a policy to stop selling tickets to attractions that care for dolphins and whales. Two facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) – SeaWorld and Dolphin Discovery – have been told by Virgin Holidays they will no longer do business with them. In Virgin Holidays announcement, they specifically named SeaWorld and Discovery Cove. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment and Dolphin Discovery have seven facilities accredited by AZA between them.

In response to Virgin Holidays’ announcement, Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA, issued the following statement:

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is very disappointed Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Holidays singled out AZA-accredited members in their announcement. AZA’s accreditation standards are regarded as the “gold standard” among zoological facilities, and include specific standards related to dolphins and whales.

The quality of care provided by AZA member facilities is affirmed through our rigorous accreditation process, which assures the well-being of the animals in their care always comes first based on the highest levels of scientific evidence and data. That means assuring each animal’s health, welfare, and safety is the top priority of any program offered to guests. We are also proud that each of our member facilities has earned recognition for excellence as a result of rigorous and comprehensive program assessment, including strict animal care, education, and conservation guidelines.

AZA stands behind every animal encounter program offered by its members. Professionally designed and monitored animal ambassador and encounter programs, including “swim with” programs with dolphins and whales, have proven educational benefits and inspire guests to respect animals and support their conservation. Each year, the many animal encounter programs allow millions of children and families to experience and connect with animals and ecosystems they would likely never otherwise have the opportunity to see. Ending these opportunities would mean that only the economically elite have the opportunity to encounter and be inspired by these amazing animals.

We call on Sir Richard and Virgin Holidays to reconsider their position, and we offer to work with him and others to identify the standards necessary to assure that whales and dolphins, and all animals in human care, receive the exceptional care that they deserve.

Association of Zoos & Aquarium

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