The Blackfish Effect Continues: Captive Whales and Dolphins Have an Ally in Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson

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In another case of ‘when you know better, you do better’, the creative genius who brought us Virgin Airlines as well as over a hundred other ventures has now taken a stand on cetacean issues – when Whale and Dolphin Conservation recently mounted a campaign asking tour companies not to book with amusement parks such as SeaWorld, Virgin Airlines CEO Richard Branson took note. His tour company, Virgin Holidays, will no longer book with any organization that won’t guarantee that they won’t display dolphins and whales that are taken from the wild. (Please see below).

Lolita's violent capture - she is now displayed at the Miami SeaQuarium.
Lolita’s violent capture – she is now displayed at the Miami SeaQuarium.

That means any place that accepts dolphins from the Taiji dolphin drives won’t get his business, nor will any park or aquarium that takes the orcas, belugas, false killer whales, pilot whales, and dolphins caught around the world. Countries such as Cuba, Honduras, Russia, Japan, and the Solomon Islands openly catch dolphins and whales for the display trade, and others such as Mexico are lax in allowing dolphin brokers to get “scientific research” permits for capture.
Where Morgan will have to live (Loro Parque, Spain).
The wild orca “Morgan” was sent from the Netherlands to Loro Parque, Spain where SeaWorld warehouses  orcas. In six weeks the courts will decide if she can be returned to the wild.

Branson’s stance will affect large corporate ventures such as SeaWorld, privately owned parks such as Loro Parque in the Canary Islands, and every mom and pop ‘swim-with-dolphins’ company world-wide. While other tour companies may still book with those facilities, and while Virgin Holidays probably does not have arrangements with many of the captive dolphin and whale based businesses, Branson’s renowned social media presence will cause a ripple through the industry.
This decision by Branson shows the character of the man – whatever income is lost by his choice will be more than offset by the satisfaction of living according to his principles. Still, as a businessman losing money is unpleasant, no matter how rich and successful you are.
So, please fly Virgin Airlines if you have a choice, and book your vacations through Virgin Holidays. Follow him on Twitter @richardbranson , and leave comments on his blog.
Your opinion is important – he is still studying the issue of captivity in general, and may be open to not booking with any amusement park or aquarium at all where cetaceans are displayed, regardless of whether the animals are wild caught. His study strategy is listed below.

From Branson’s blog:

I’ve instructed Virgin Holidays not to deal with any organisation[s] that do not pledge that they will never again take cetaceans from the sea. We hope other holiday companies will follow suit. 

Virgin Holidays has played a leading role on the issue of animal welfare in the travel industry for many years, and helped to draft the first ever set of global guidelines to ensure minimum standards are met. This is a complex subject that we’re committed to fully understanding.
We expect all of the tourism facilities we work with to meet the required local and international welfare standards for the animals in their care. As part of an ongoing audit process, any supplier found not to be meeting those requirements is reviewed and if necessary, the relationship ended.
We have begun an engagement process that will gather a broad spectrum of opinion from the scientific community, commercial partners, other travel companies, the general public, conservation organisations and our industry as we improve our knowledge of the various elements of this debate, and work towards a long term vision of captive cetaceans in tourism in the future.

The engagement process will include, but not be limited to, discussion on the following points:

  • The role of captive cetaceans for education and raising awareness.
  • The issue of training captive cetaceans for entertainment.
  • The welfare of captive cetaceans, including the space given to them.
  • The breeding of cetaceans in captivity.
  • The reintroduction of captive cetaceans into the wild.

We have put a six month timeline on this engagement process. I look forward to hearing more of your views on the subject too.

Update: Whale and Dolphin Conservation’s response to Branson’s statement can be found on their website.

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