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Talking to TUI – will they stop supporting whale and dolphin captivity?

Last Thursday I travelled to Berlin for a long-anticipated meeting with TUI senior executives. I was there to hand over our petition, signed by more than 20,000 of you, and to address TUI’s ongoing promotion of captive whale and dolphin shows. I wasn’t entirely sure what reception I would get but was surprised by how open and receptive they were to your concerns.

Rob presents petition to TUI
I'm on the right of the photo, presenting your petition to TUI's head of communications, Christian Rapp

Domino effect

For the last few years, the core of our work to end captivity has been campaigning to persuade tour operators and holiday companies to stop promoting captive whale and dolphin attractions. One by one, the major players in the travel, tourism and leisure sector have adopted a more enlightened approach and stopped selling holidays that include captive dolphin shows or experiences.

Orca-Keto-LoroParque-2013_c_UCLudewig (2)

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TUI needs to catch up

Around 3,600 whales, dolphins and porpoises are held in captivity worldwide. This includes more than 3,000 dolphins and around 365 belugas and 57 orcas. Many of them have been taken from families in the wild while others were born in captivity and have never even seen the ocean.

Our campaign targeting Richard Branson resulted in Virgin Holidays being the first big player to end its support for facilities holding captive whales or dolphins, and other travel giants such as Thomas Cook, British Airways Holidays, Expedia, Airbnb, and Booking.com have all followed suit.

The one notable exception continuing to throw considerable shade on this more progressive attitude is the world’s largest tour operator, TUI who continue to promote and sell tickets to these outdated and cruel shows.

Beluga Nanuq died at TUI-supported SeaWorld, Orlando.
Beluga Nanuq died at TUI-supported SeaWorld, Orlando.

Lagging behind chimpanzees

Key to reflecting the public’s increasing concern and changing attitude to captivity is ABTA – the UK’s travel association. In recent years, ABTA has addressed the issue of animals in entertainment with well-received welfare guidelines for its members and the wider travel industry.

Elephants, big cats, primates and other species used in tourism benefit from positive ABTA welfare advice and many outdated holiday experiences (including riding elephants or taking selfies with animals such as tigers or chimpanzees) are now listed as ‘unacceptable’. But  ABTA seems to have a blind spot on the issue of dolphin captivity and has actually withdrawn its guidelines claiming that ‘opinion was split on what the evidence says about being able to manage the welfare needs of dolphins in captivity'.

Riding elephants is on ABTA's 'unacceptable' list
Riding elephants is on ABTA's 'unacceptable' list

Elephant in the room

WDC firmly believes that the lack of consensus on this issue is primarily down to TUI’s influence as an ABTA member and their desire to protect their interest in the lucrative business of captive dolphin ‘attractions’.

To address TUI’s elephant in the room (or the dolphin in the tank!) I took our petition to TUI’s corporate office last week and met with TUI senior executives. I asked for TUI’s backing for a phase out of dolphin captivity. We know we can’t ‘empty the tanks’ overnight – that’s just not in the best interests of the whales and dolphins held, but we are determined to make this the last generation of whales and dolphins in captivity and so we are urging tour operators and captive facilities to join our pledge. We’re asking for no captive breeding, no performances, no captures from the wild and for support for sanctuaries to retire captive individuals to a more natural coastal environment and release them where possible.

Feeling positive

My meeting with TUI turned out to be extremely constructive and we covered a lot of ground. TUI has already demonstrated that it ‘gets’ the issue with terrestrial species and has supported, for example, elephant sanctuaries. So why hasn’t the same concern been focused on that other group of sentient, complex and social beings – captive whales and dolphins? TUI is undergoing a comprehensive review of all its sustainable policies to take it through to the new generation and acknowledged some aspects of its current business model needed more urgent attention than others and is now back on track with its auditing after the disruption the pandemic has caused over the last two years.

WDC playing the long game

We knew that we’d need to be in it for the long haul if we were going to shift the dial on the issue of dolphin captivity and tackle the status quo of travel company business models that have been in place for decades. The success WDC has achieved in recent years – backed by solid science and changing public opinion – has proved we have the wind firmly behind us. After my meeting I got the impression TUI believes this too as they look around at what other powerful industry players have done in evolving their animal welfare policies.

We will now follow up on the dialogue we have established with TUI, maintain momentum and keep up the pressure to create a brighter future for all captive whales and dolphins.

Thank you for supporting our campaign – I was proud to represent you. Now … watch this space.

Will you help us continue our campaign?

However small or large, your donation will help us keep fighting to make this generation of captive whales and dolphins the last,

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