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Richard Branson’s pledge on captive whales and dolphins

Following our 10th March letter to Sir Richard Branson and his colleagues at Virgin Holidays, Sir Richard has made a further statement on Virgin’s engagement process on the issue of whale and dolphin captivity. Our detailed letter addressed points raised in Sir Richard’s previous statement on 27th February and also asked for commitment from Virgin Atlantic Cargo not to transport whales and dolphins that have been captured in the wild. We therefore note in particular Sir Richard’s reference to airlines getting on board with Virgin’s pledge not to take whales and dolphins from the ocean and request again details of Virgin Atlantic’s policy on this issue. Nearly 40 airlines have responded to our campaign committing not to transport whales and dolphins captured from the wild. 

We welcome SeaWorld’s change in policy as a result of our campaign and Sir Richard’s outreach to facilities holding whales and dolphins in captivity. Our blog on 4th March included a screen grab of SeaWorld’s statement on capturing wild marine mammals, including reference to “…collection from the wild remains an important part of the management of species in human care”, a point raised in our 10th March letter to Sir Richard.

A visit to the same website page today, however, reveals no reference to wild captures.

We wonder if this, and Sir Richard’s reference to assurances received from SeaWorld that they will not capture wild cetaceans extends to SeaWorld’s involvement in a recent proposal by the Georgia Aquarium in Atlanta, USA to import wild-caught beluga whales from Russia on behalf of SeaWorld and others. 

Not capturing wild whales and dolphins is not quite the same thing as not importing whales and dolphins already captured. While we certainly support a commitment from any facility holding captive whales and dolphins never to again take those that have been captured in the wild, we would also encourage Virgin Holidays to work with facilities to extend the pledge against the acquisition of whales and dolphins from the wild to include a prohibition on import or exchange of whales and dolphins captured in the past as well in the future. This would help stem demand for wild-caught whales and dolphins internationally, as well as be in line with the ABTA recommendation against “discouraged practices”, which includes “acquisition of wild animals”. We note that Virgin Holidays already includes no aquarium in its programme that has sourced whales and dolphins from the Japanese drive hunts and welcome that as a positive first step. 

Sir Richard references the position of the Vancouver Aquarium on wild captures, noting their commitment in 1996 to no longer capture whales and dolphins from the wild for display. Yet in 2001 and 2005, Vancouver Aquarium imported Pacific white-sided dolphins from Japan, claiming they were rescued and unreleasable animals. But aquariums holding captive whales and dolphins in Japan typically include individuals from the cruel drive hunts, including the aquarium from which the Pacific white-sided individuals were obtained. And the Vancouver Aquarium has recently said it will likely bring in more large marine mammals for display.

We await further news on Virgin’s engagement process with anticipation, noting, as we have done repeatedly in our letters to Sir Richard and Virgin Holidays, that whales and dolphins are not suited to a life in captivity and suffer enormously as a result of capture and confinement.

About Cathy Williamson

Cathy Williamson was policy manager of our End Captivity Programme until July 2021.