An Orca whale in the wild

A post from Sir Richard Branson on Virgin’s website this week announced that Virgin Holidays is officially ending its sales and promotion of tourism attractions that involve captive cetaceans, such as whales and dolphins.

This marks a milestone on the company’s five-year journey to alter its approach in offering whale and dolphin interactions to its guests. In 2014, it committed to The Virgin Pledge, stating that all Virgin businesses would only continue working with suppliers that do not take sea cetaceans from the wild.

The Pledge was born out of Virgin’s extensive conversations with activists and advocates, scientists, tourism entities and operators of marine parks and aquaria.

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In 2017, the company created a new policy, stating it would not add any new attractions involving captive whales and dolphins to its portfolio and would encourage existing facilities to abide by leading standards in animal welfare, in addition to actively promoting tourism alternatives to captive experiences.

“Captive cetaceans cannot thrive in concrete boxes,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for the Animal Welfare Institute, an organization supported by Virgin Holidays. “The public has become increasingly aware of these inhumane conditions as the body of science on captive cetacean welfare grows. All tourism companies should follow Virgin’s pioneering lead.”

Branson’s post indicated that the company collectively feels this to be the right thing to do and believes that the majority of its customers will support its stance. “Many no longer consider whale and dolphin shows and ‘swim withs’ to be appropriate,” he wrote, “and most would rather enjoy these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.”

Virgin’s vision for the industry is an end to the use of captive cetaceans for human entertainment, changing the way tourists interact with whales and dolphins for good. Branson said that he believes the best way to achieve this goal is active engagement in a long-term business transformation that moves away from captive-animal entertainment.

Ultimately, Virgin Holidays aims to offer a world-class, wild whale and dolphin tour portfolio that provide its customers with richer animal-encounter experiences while also meeting the highest ethical standards for the treatment of these magnificent animals.

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