TripAdvisor has announced it will not sell tickets to attractions that breed or import captive whales and dolphins used for public display. The travel site has confirmed the move will affect major attractions that include SeaWorld’s theme parks.
TripAdvisor and its subsidiary, Viator, will end commercial relationships with facilities that do not have, or are not in the process of developing, alternative environments for captive cetaceans, which includes whales, dolphins and porpoises.
“They would have to have made a public commitment either to cease all breeding and importation of cetaceans for display with immediate effect or to develop alternative models, such as seaside-sanctuary environments, for the population of captive cetaceans already in their care,” said James Kay, director of corporate communications for TripAdvisor.
The travel site defines seaside sanctuaries as a body of coastal water, such as a bay or a cove, that houses cetaceans in as close to a natural environment as possible while providing protection and oversight from qualified husbandry and veterinary staff. It adds that these environments must adhere to a strict no-breeding policy, must not train their animals to perform in any shows or performances for public display, and must prohibit all forms of physical interaction between guests and the animals.
“We believe the current generation of whales and dolphins in captivity should be the last,” said Dermot Halpin, president of experiences and rentals for TripAdvisor. “Seaside sanctuaries have enormous potential but they need more backing from the tourism industry. As long as facilities with captive whales and dolphins continue to profit from keeping these animals in smaller, cheaper and less-natural living environments, then they don’t have enough incentive to adopt serious change.”
The new approach applies to commercial and non-profit attractions who must have “made a public commitment to rehouse all captive cetaceans in its care to these environments in an expedient manner”. TripAdvisor says those it views as in breach will be removed from sale over the next few months, with the policy in full force by the end of 2019.
Kay confirmed that major attractions, including SeaWorld and Loro Parque would be affected by the change.
“In the case of SeaWorld, it has committed to not breeding orcas, but has not made the same commitment for other cetaceans in its care, and therefore wouldn’t be eligible for sale under the new policy. In contrast, the National Aquarium in Baltimore is creating a sanctuary for its dolphins, so that is one example of an attraction that will still be eligible for sale,” he said.
Kay confirmed the new policy only affects tickets sales through the site and does not mean attractions will be delisted. TripAdvisor still wants travellers to be able to share their feedback about the attractions, good or bad.
Although TripAdvisor is aiming to put pressure on the industry to end the captivity of future generations of cetaceans, the new policy does not include a ban on ticket sales to attractions with animals already in captivity. After a consultation process with experts, including marine biologists, zoologists and conservationists, TripAdvisor says that for the current population of cetaceans in captivity, “release into the wild is not a realistic option”.
“Science has revealed the immense suffering and early mortality imposed upon cetaceans exploited for captive public display. These facilities can also threaten real conservation efforts to save these animals in the wild,” said Toni Frohoff, a cetacean behavioural biologist from Terramar Research. “Now that we know better, we should do better, and not support these facilities by visiting them.”
Conservation groups, some of whom were consulted on the policy, have largely welcomed the move as an important step forward in tourism and animal welfare.
“This sends a clear message to other travel companies that we must end this cruel industry once and for all,” said Nick Stewart, World Animal Protection’s global head of campaign. “Together we can ensure this is the last generation of dolphins held captive for entertainment.”
Other organisations called on TripAdivsor to ensure strict criteria to only allow the promotion of true sanctuaries, and strengthen its animal welfare further still.
“With its global influence on holidaymakers and the tourism industry, this action will no doubt have a significant impact on the captive-cetacean industry,” said Nicola O’Brien, campaigns director for Freedom for Animals. “We would now urge TripAdvisor to take this action further, and extend this commitment to facilities that exploit many different species for entertainment.”
The announcement is the next step in TripAdvisor’s animal welfare policy, which first launched in 2016. This already includes a ban on tickets sales to any experiences where travellers come into physical contact with captive wild animals. In 2018, it also banned ticket sales to attractions that included “demeaning animal shows and performances”.
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