Virgin Holidays has become the latest operator to stop selling tickets to SeaWorld.
The move will result in more than 20,000 tickets being removed from sale, although all existing bookings will be honoured.
The move is part of a decision to cease the company’s relationship with attractions that keep whales and dolphins in captivity.
Virgin Holidays has removed 19 attractions with captive whales and dolphins from its brochure and website in the past year, with just five remaining: SeaWorld in San Diego and Orlando, Discovery Cove also in Orlando, and Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas and Atlantis The Palm in Dubai. These will be taken down this week.
The decision follows Thomas Cook, which last summer stopped selling tickets to animal attractions that include killer whales.
Virgin Holidays managing director Joe Thompson confirmed: “Virgin Holidays has decided to stop selling and promoting captive cetacean – whale and dolphin – experiences, as we look to focus on offering customers more natural, at-distance encounters with these animals.
“This decision means that we will be ending our long term partnerships with the likes of SeaWorld, Discovery Cove and other similar facilities.
“This decision follows steps that Virgin Holidays embarked upon in 2014, when we announced the Virgin Pledge to only work with facilities that committed to not taking animals from the wild, and our updated position in 2017, when we announced a number of new steps to evolve the customer offering towards more natural encounters with these captivating animals.
“Following further developments, we have now decided the time is right to discontinue offering attractions featuring close encounters with captive whales and dolphins.
“We will instead focus our efforts on encouraging customers to see these creatures in the wild. We will also continue our efforts to support the development of sanctuaries for whales and dolphins currently in captivity.
“The decision to stop the sale and promotion of captive whale and dolphin attractions is something Virgin Holidays strongly believes in, and we know UK consumers feel the same.
“In our recent survey, 92% of UK holidaymakers said they prefer to see animals in their natural habitat.
“We want to actively support this direction by encouraging more responsible wild watching, which puts animal welfare at the heart of things, meaning our customers get to experience these amazing animals with peace of mind and future generations can enjoy these wonderful experiences too.”
Dylan Walker, CEO of World Cetacean Alliance, added:“History will show that this was absolutely the right decision by Virgin Holidays. Whales and dolphins are complex and intelligent animals whose needs can only be met in the wild.
“To understand them involves seeing them in their ocean home, which is why we are extremely pleased that Virgin Holidays is committed to investing and supporting responsible wild whale and dolphin excursions moving forward.
“We know that Virgin Holidays’ decision has been preceded by years of work and consultation and the company has shown tremendous leadership, involving key stakeholders in an extensive consultation process, and have analysed the latest scientific evidence.
“At the World Cetacean Alliance, we have been one of the many voices in that process. Now, we are delighted to be investing in more exciting responsible wild whale and dolphin watching experiences for Virgin Holidays customers.”
A SeaWorld spokesperson said: “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.
“No company does more to protect marine mammals and advance cetacean research, rescue and conservation than SeaWorld.”