Virgin Holidays stops marine tourism

The goal is to better animal welfare in tourism

By Madeline Holcombe, CNN
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Bottlenose dolphins leap off the Southern California coast near Dana Point, California.

(CNN) - Virgin Holidays is done promoting whales in captivity.

Founder Richard Branson announced on the tourism service's blog that the company will no longer offer trips to parks that have whales, dolphins or porpoises captive for human entertainment.

The company is ending partnerships with theme parks such as SeaWorld, which has come under criticism for its treatment of cetaceans especially since the 2013 CNN documentary "Black Fish."

"We felt strongly this was the right thing to do and we knew most of our customers supported it, too," Branson said. "Many no longer consider whale and dolphin shows and 'swim withs' to be appropriate, and most would rather enjoy these magnificent creatures in their natural environment," Branson said.

SeaWorld responded, saying it was "disappointing to see Virgin Holidays succumb to pressure from animal activists who mislead and manipulate marine mammal science to advance their agendas.

"With rising threats to our oceans and their inhabitants, supporting independently accredited zoological facilities is more important than ever. No company does more to protect marine mammals and advance cetacean research, rescue and conservation than SeaWorld," Dr. Chris Dold, chief zoological officer at SeaWorld, said in a statement.

Branson said the move is part of a five-year campaign that works with activists, scientists, tourism operators, and organizations to raise standards in animal welfare in the tourism industry.

Instead of seeking an immediate shutdown of existing theme parks, the plan is to support ethical sanctuaries and thereby encourage other parks to change their practices.

"Active engagement that supports long-term business transformation away from captive entertainment seems the much better option," Branson said.

It began in 2014, when the company said it would not add new attractions to its offering that featured captive dolphins. Three years later, focus became supporting dolphin and whale sanctuaries to encourage rehoming animals that have lived for too long in captivity into more natural environments.

Next stop, Branson said, the company will work to make available more wild whale and dolphin tours that comply with international ethical guidelines.

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