Updated 09 October 2014

Marine animal rights advocates attack Richard Branson

Sir Richard Branson has pledged to only do business with marine parks that no longer accept whales and dolphins caught in the wild, but conservationists feel he should be doing much more.


Billionaire Richard Branson, whose “Virgin Holidays” organises vacations to marine parks, has pledged to only do business with parks and aquaria that no longer accept whales and dolphins caught in the wild.

Branson's announcement, on his personal blog, has been met with limited approval, and also censure from animal rights activists and marine conservationists, who say Branson needs to stop dealing with any establishment that also breeds these mammals for entertainment purposes.

Read: How to really save a whale

In February this year, Branson stated that Virgin would only work with suppliers that pledge to no longer take sea mammals from the wild and that they would issue the pledge by the end of September.

Although Virgin has delivered on this promise, many wildlife campaigners hoped that the pledge would be more comprehensive.

Activists are especially unhappy that Virgin Holidays will continue to sell trips to SeaWorld, the multi-billion dollar chain of sea parks in the United States. SeaWorld has come under censure because for their ill-treatment of captive killer whales, as depicted in the controversial documentary "Blackfish," released in 2013

Read: SeaWorld urged to stop using killer whales in shows

Marine advocates like the organisation Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) are fighting to end all cetacean captivity, which they consider to violate the rights of these large, intelligent creatures.

Several marine parks have captive breeding programmes, where animals are bred and raised not to be released into the wild but to be used as entertainers in shows.

WDC says in their response to Virgin's final statement that it "falls a long way short".

"Despite the fact that Virgin seems to be stating that taking dolphins from the wild and putting them in tanks is not a good idea, they fail to condemn the general practice of keeping dolphins in confinement for entertainment purposes - a practice that poses serious welfare concerns but also perpetuates the capture and trade in dolphins worldwide."

Watch: WDC's irreverent 'Letter to Richard Branson - Stop Supporting SeaWorld!'

The organisation believes there is no educational benefit in seeing creatures like orcas performing in circus-style shows. Also, they point out that "Very little of SeaWorld’s annual revenue goes towards conservation."

"Whales and dolphins live shorter lives in captivity compared with those in the wild, they can never hope to travel the 100 miles or so that they do each day in the ocean whilst held in a small tank, and they suffer stress as a result."

Killer whales in captivity do not live as long as those in the wild, and display abnormal behaviour that indicates they suffer high stress levels, such as biting the bars of their pens, repetitive swimming movements and unusual aggression. Orca's dorsal fins also often start to droop abnormally in captivity.

WDC states that they will continue their campaign with Virgin and the four other major UK tour operators (Cosmos, First Choice, Thomas Cook and Thomson) who together account for 85% of SeaWorld tickets sold to British tourists. WDC will also be discussing the campaign with British Airways, and the ethics of promoting the marine mammal entertainment industry to its passengers.

Sign WDC's petition to stop Virgin Holidays to SeaWorld

Read more:

'Bombing' whales to save them from oil
Whale meat off the menu


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