Animal welfare groups and MPs write to Abta over dolphin policy

A coalition of animal welfare groups has written to Abta calling on the travel association to discourage visits to see whales, dolphins and other cetaceans for entertainment.

Peta, World Cetacean Alliance, World Animal Protection, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, and Animal Aid and several MPs sent a letter to Abta chief executive Mark Tanzer on Wednesday.

They want to see the practice of viewing the animals added to Abta’s list of unacceptable and discouraged practices – but Abta defended its stance because “opinion is split” on the matter.

The letter points out that Abta discourages elephant rides but says it gives no decisive advice about captive cetacean attractions. It points out Cyprus, Canada, Croatia, and India have banned cetacean captivity. Abta withdrew its guidance on dolphins in 2019 to instead point members to a range of sources on the issue.

The group’s letter says: “It is outdated and counter to what we now know about animal welfare that Abta does not have a policy regarding cetaceans in tourism.”

Peta has long been calling for travel companies and specifically the UK’s largest tour operator Tui, which is an Abta members, to stop selling tickets to marine wildlife parks it believes are “unethical”.

Peta senior campaigns manager, Kate Werner, said: “The evidence is clear: cetaceans suffer in captivity, where they’re unable to swim vast distances, feel the ocean’s currents, choose their mates, or act on any of their natural instincts.

“Peta is joining law makers in calling on Abta to condemn the operations responsible for their suffering.”

The MPs who have signed the letter are former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Tonia Antoniazzi, Andrew Gwynne, Roger Gale, Caroline Lucas, Lisa Cameron, Sammy Wilson, Stuart McDonald, Henry Smith, and David Amess.

Companies including, Tripadvisor, Virgin Holidays, British Airways Holidays, and, most recently, Club Med, have adopted bans on promoting marine parks.

Abta pointed to a blog it posted in May which includes specific guidance on its animal welfare policy for dolphins.

It says: “Our guidance is underpinned by an overview manual which sets out basic animal welfare requirements, including providing appropriate food, veterinary care and any enclosures should support normal and diverse behaviour.

“The guidance also outlines unacceptable practices such as tourists holding or having a photo with wild animals where the animal does not have the choice to end the interaction or move away.

“It also includes performances or tourist interactions where training involves punishment or food deprivation, causes the animal fear, injury or distress, or the tasks are not based on normal behaviour.

“These apply to all types of animal activities, including dolphins in captivity.”

Abta also offers supporting manuals for specific animals or attractions. However, its supporting manual on dolphins, originally published in 2013, was withdrawn in 2019.

“We withdrew the dolphin manual because opinion was split on what the evidence says about being able to manage the welfare needs of dolphins in captivity,” Abta’s blog says.

“We want to be able to offer members and suppliers the most up to date evidence and insight on dolphins in captivity. Providing a manual which no longer reflects the breadth of current thinking does not do that.

“Instead, we are signposting members to a range of existing evidence. Members can use this information, as they did the guidelines, to inform their own decision making about what attractions they choose to sell and how they engage with their suppliers.”

The sources of evidence Abta is currently directing members to on dolphins in captivity are:

  • NGO concerns regarding cetacea in captivity are set out in The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity (CAMMIC) report, A vision for whales and dolphins in tourism, and Behind the smile, which argue that it is not possible to fully meet welfare requirements for cetaceans in captivity.
  • Bodies such as the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA), European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM) and Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) work with marine parks, zoos and aquaria to evaluate and audit them against welfare criteria.

Abta added: “We continue to engage with members and stakeholders on the important issue of dolphins in captivity, updating our evidence as and when new material comes to light.”

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