UK holiday company Thomas Cook has announced it will stop selling tickets to theme parks which hold killer whales captive.
The decision comes after years of activists pressuring Thomas Cook to discourage visits to parks which use cetaceans for entertainment purposes, and it is hoped that other major travel companies such as Virgin Holidays and British Airways will also follow suit.
There are currently 60 captive killer whales in theme parks around the globe. Thomas Cook has previously sold tickets to attractions including SeaWorld in Florida and Loro Parque in Tenerife, which currently houses protected wild orca Morgan, who has been in captivity since being ‘rescued’ in ill health of the coast of the Netherlands in 2010. Morgan was said to initially being kept at Loro Parque for rehabilitation purposes, although she is now pregnant and soon to give birth to her calf, with no plans for her release in place.
Thomas Cook chief Peter Fankhauser told the Daily Mirror:
We have engaged with a range of animal welfare specialists and taken account of the scientific evidence they have provided.
We have also taken feedback from our customers, more than 90 per cent of whom said it was important their holiday company takes animal welfare seriously. That led us to the decision.
From next summer, the company will cease selling tickets to 29 attractions which don’t meet minimum standards according to its animal welfare policy.
Since the release of controversial documentary Blackfish in 2013, which highlights the welfare issues of keeping orca captive, SeaWorld and similar marine theme parks have fallen out of favour with the general public. Despite this, Thomas Cook continued to sell over 10,000 SeaWorld tickets and 40,000 tickets to Loro Parque annually.
Orca are among the most intelligent large-brained mammals on earth, who in the wild live in inter-related family social groups. Yet a captive environment is unable to provide adequate space or stimulation for these magnificent animals. We only have to hear the story in the news this week of a wild orca carrying the body of her newborn calf for days to realise these creatures are highly emotionally intelligent.
Thomas Cook’s decision to axe trips to dolphin parks is a step in the right direction to end the captivity of cetaceans, and earlier this year the WDC announced plans to create a sanctuary for two wild-caught beluga whales currently held captive at an aquarium in China.
Meanwhile, another captive orca, Lolita, remains in the spotlight. After being captured in 1970 off the coast of Washington, Lolita still resides at Miami Seaquarium in a tank barely big enough for her to turn around in – despite numerous calls from animal rights organisations to have her freed. These have all been ignored by the Seaquarium’s owners, although now the Native American Lummi tribe has passed a unanimous resolution to have her sent to an ocean sanctuary, or perhaps released back to her family, L Pod, which still swims in the waters off Washington – including a whale believed to be Lolita’s mother. It is hoped that Miami Seaquarium will inevitably be among the attractions on Thomas Cook’s list of axed theme parks.
And with SeaWorld forced to end its orca breeding programme in California last year, it’s surely only a matter of time before orca captivity becomes consigned to history. Let’s hope the rest of the world can quickly follow suit and stop using whales and dolphins for entertainment.
It will be interesting to see whether Thomas Cook also plans to stop selling tickets to attractions which house captive dolphins and other animals. For now, it seems their focus is specifically on killer whales – but we wait with bated breath to see how the rest of the travel industry will follow.
If you’re looking for alternative places to holiday, why not check out our ultimate vegan staycation guide? Or visit Chessington’s World of Adventure – home to the UK’s first meat-free business inside a theme park?