WDC welcomed the invitation to participate in Virgin’s recent meeting held in Miami, Florida on June 3-4 of last week, the purpose of which was to provide high quality stakeholder input to a landmark debate on the issue of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity. Pro and anti-captivity representatives were present. Virgin’s destinations supply chains (e.g., ‘swim with dolphin’ programs and aquaria) were represented, as well as experts from welfare and conservation organizations actively engaged in the issue of captivity.
In late February, WDC launched its campaign asking tour operators (including Virgin Holidays) not to sell trips to places like SeaWorld. A few days later, Sir Richard Branson made a simple announcement that Virgin Holidays will not partner with any organization that does not pledge to never again take whales and dolphins from the sea. Shortly after that, Virgin announced that it was to begin an engagement process (starting with the meeting in Miami) to gather a broad spectrum of information and opinion regarding the debate on captive whales and dolphins and the role of tourism in the global protection of these magnificent, intelligent and socially complex creatures.
This process is a positive move towards WDC’s aim of eventually ending tourism that supports the confinement and cruel trade in whales and dolphins. Fundamental to real, incremental and positive change towards a brighter future for whales and dolphins in captivity is Sir Richard’s pledge. Although the pledge seems fairly straightforward and simple, it is anything but. The difficult part is defining what exactly this pledge means, and how it should be implemented. This is where the hard work began, and continues, in our dialogue with Virgin Holidays.
Explicitly stated as part of this pledge is Sir Richard’s belief that no dolphins or whales should ever again be killed by humans, or taken from the ocean for marine theme parks. On its own, the pledge could be applied to all of the pressing issues confronting whales and dolphins in the wild, and the threats posed to their health and welfare. However, as the pledge’s focus is on captivity and the role of tourism in influencing the global protection of the oceans, we hope that we can make clear for Virgin the critical connections between tourism and the international capture and trade in dolphins for marine parks, and the demand created by all captive facilities – whether supplied by whales and dolphins bred in captivity or those taken from the wild.
This engagement process is historic. It is the first time that whale and dolphin welfare experts, the tourism industry and the aquarium industry, including SeaWorld, have literally come to the same table to discuss these important issues. We may not all agree, but it is a place to start in finding some common ground towards real, progressive change for whales and dolphins in the wild and in captivity. Change can take many forms, and we are committed to this process of addressing captivity, step by step. It is going to be a long process – incremental steps will be required, but we are in it for the long term and proud to be involved from the start. I am confident that we can all do better for whales and dolphins in captivity, not least with the leadership of Richard Branson and the Virgin brand.