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Dead sperm whale in The Wash, East Anglia, England. © CSIP-ZSL.

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Virgin Releases Its Captivity Stakeholder Meeting Report

Days after we launched our campaign pressuring Richard Branson to stop selling trips to SeaWorld, he called a historic meeting to discuss the issue of captivity and tourism. WDC was asked to attend.

In follow-up to that stakeholder meeting which occurred in Miami in early June, Virgin recently posted the report of the meeting detailing the topics explored and the primary messages conveyed by the participants to this historic meeting.

At the time, Virgin pledged that it would no longer partner with organisations that take whales and dolphins from the wild , and that there should be a global ban on the practice of taking these majestic beings from the wild. In addition, Sir Richard also made the strong statement that no dolphins should ever again be killed by humans. This pledge and the meeting are great steps forward in WDC’s ongoing campaigns to end captive whale and dolphin shows and the cruel hunting of dolphins around the world.

Although the convening of the entire meeting can be considered a significant event in its own right, where representatives from animal welfare and conservation organizations were able to sit around the table with captivity interests in an open and transparent dialogue to exchange views and data, there are some key points of the meeting that deserve highlight:

  • Leadership within the Tourism industry: Attention was focused on the role and influence of tourism on the captivity industry. Perspectives ranged from suggesting tourism can and should shape consumer expectations regarding captivity to those views that tourism should be responsive to consumer desires and demands. This discussion, as presented in the report, reveals that some long-term data suggests that attitudes of younger generations towards captivity are changing, and that traditional models of learning that require the confinement of live animals in unnatural habitats should be challenged. WDC believes there is enormous potential for the tourism industry, with its reach and magnitude, to profoundly influence consumer preference and choices.
  • Welfare considerations: Perspectives relating to the welfare of captive whales and dolphins were also presented at the meeting. Although not comprehensive, many of the welfare concerns associated with captivity were presented, including physical space, enrichment, unnatural behaviors and stereotypy, aggression, and longevity. Other stakeholders suggested that current regulatory requirements ensure the welfare of captive whales and dolphins, citing evidenced of successful breeding programs and increasing lifespans. WDC believes that no captive environment can provide for the social and psychological requirements of whales and dolphins.
  • Captive breeding: The role of captive breeding was discussed, including its potential value to the protection or enhancement of wild populations. Some stakeholders suggested that denying an individual animal the opportunity to breed is cruel. Others noted the disconnect between captive breeding and actual contributions to protection or recovery of endangered or threatened species in the wild. WDC believes that in the absence of untenable and actual programs to recover endangered or threatened populations through captive breeding, this practice should be eliminated as it contributes to the perpetuation of the captivity industry.
  • Sanctuaries, rehabilitation, and release: The meeting addressed the possibility of alternative futures for captive whales and dolphins, what that might look like, and the implications for the individuals involved. Some stakeholders remained sceptical about the potential for release of former captives, but acknowledged the value of sanctuaries potentially contributing to stranding and rescue work. WDC believes that the development of sanctuaries is a positive step towards providing a more humane future for whales and dolphins and is currently exploring the development of permanent sanctuary facilities where individuals may live out their life in a more natural environment.

The public are starting to turn against keeping whales and dolphins in captivity and how things develop from this summit meeting will go a long way towards defining the future of this issue. As the details of the final pledge are announced in September, we will respond accordingly, maintaining our dialogue and the pressure, as the pledge is implemented through the supply chain by those facilities that choose to comply with its requirements.

Although perhaps incremental, any requirements outlined within Virgin’s final pledge and that challenge the status quo of the captivity industry should be seen as one step closer to a better future for whales and dolphins. We might have to walk before we can run, but we will never give up on our campaigns for a safer and more humane world for whales and dolphins, including a permanent end to captivity.