Thrilled to see Virgin Holidays teaming up with the National Aquarium in Baltimore to support North America’s first dolphin sea sanctuary. Once it is up and running in a few years’ time, this pioneering project will offer a natural and much larger home for the National Aquarium’s captive population of seven bottlenose dolphins – and hopefully set a wonderful example for both marine entertainment and tourism operators who have faced increasing pressure over the welfare of whales and dolphins, collectively known as cetaceans.
For the Virgin Group, the announcement marks a major milestone in our ongoing effort to drive change in this industry. Four years ago, we announced The Virgin Pledge, a commitment that Virgin businesses will only continue to work with suppliers that don’t take sea mammals from the wild. The Pledge followed in-depth consultations with non-profits and activists, scientists, tourism operators, and many organisations running marine parks and aquaria, and we knew it was going to be the first step in a long journey to end the use of captive cetaceans for human entertainment.
In 2017, Virgin Holidays took the next step and announced that it would not add any new attractions featuring whales and dolphins to its portfolio and at the same time explore alternatives to captivity. We felt strongly about this decision, and we knew that most of our customers supported it, too. It’s a simple truth: many consumers no longer consider whale and dolphin shows to be appropriate forms of entertainment, and most would rather enjoy these magnificent creatures in their natural environment.
Nevertheless, an important challenge remained: what to do with the large number of whales and dolphins currently held by marine parks and aquaria around the world. Many of them were born in captivity and have never spent a day of their lives in open water. That’s an important consideration as we continue to work with some of the operators. A sudden shutdown of facilities without clear strategy could spell doom for these amazing animals. Active engagement that supports long-term business transformation away from captive entertainment seems the much better option.
This is where sanctuary projects like the one pioneered by John Racanelli and his fantastic team at the National Aquarium may lead the way and make a world of difference. In John’s own words, this is about developing “a global vision to reimagine how humans experience and connect with animals”. It is about finding ways in which welfare, conservation and education can be reconciled without causing further harm. To this end, Virgin Holidays has also committed to a new two-year partnership with the World Cetacean Alliance that will see newly created Responsible Whale Watching Guidelines rolled out to all Virgin Holidays suppliers.
We haven’t reached the end of this journey yet. But the Virgin Pledge endures, and I am heartened by the progress. To future generations, orca acrobatics and dolphin rides will seem like a relic of the past. Innovations like the dolphin sanctuary tell me that we can do much better.
Head over to Virgin Holidays for more details about their commitment to improving animal welfare in tourism.
Visit the National Aquarium to learn more about the Dolphin Sanctuary project and check out the Whale Sanctuary Project, another brilliant effort to return whales and dolphins to their natural environment.