Travel website TripAdvisor will no longer sell tickets or packages to attractions such as SeaWorld Orlando that “contribute to the captivity” of whales, dolphins and porpoises.
The company announced the change in a press release Wednesday, saying it will phase in the new rules by the end of the year. The policy means “any commercial facility that either breeds or imports cetaceans for public display will be banned from sale on TripAdvisor and Viator,” the press release, though it will not apply to seaside sanctuary facilities caring for animals already in captivity.
“Our aim is not only to prevent future generations of whales and dolphins from being raised in captivity, but also to encourage the industry to move towards alternative models, like seaside sanctuaries, that will better provide for the needs of the current captive population,” TripAdvisor’s president of experiences and rentals, Dermot Halpin, said in a prepared statement. “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. We hope our announcement today can help turn the tide.”
Orlando Rising asked TripAdvisor whether this new policy will apply to Walt Disney World, which has its own dolphins at The Seas pavilion in Epcot.
“We’ll spend the next couple of months assessing our inventory, understanding who may fit the exceptions, and determining what needs to be removed,” TripAdvisor spokesperson Molly Burke said in an email to Orlando Rising, later adding that the company “will be assessing the impact on Disney World before the policy comes into full force at the end of this year.”
The move was praised by animal rights groups such as the Animal Welfare Institute. Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist at AWI, said companies are responding to consumer concerns about the health of animals at places like SeaWorld.
“The ‘Blackfish Effect’ continues,” Rose said in an email to Orlando Rising. “As more companies such as TripAdvisor reflect the growing public consensus that using captive whales and dolphins to entertain people is anachronistic and inhumane, at some point the marine theme park industry will have to get on board. Cetaceans do not belong in captivity.”
In a statement, SeaWorld’s chief zoological officer Dr. Chris Dold said:
“We are disappointed by TripAdvisor’s new position that ignores the educational value and conservation mission of professionally accredited zoos and aquariums. SeaWorld believes deeply in the mission of these organizations. As a member of World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA), certified by American Humane, and accredited by Association of Zoos & Aquariums (AZA) and Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA), as well as numerous other certifications and accreditations from leading accrediting bodies, SeaWorld maintains the highest standards of care for all animals, including cetaceans. And regardless of TripAdvisor’s position, SeaWorld will continue to advance education and animal conservation efforts along with our millions of supporters, professional scientists and other science based organizations around the world.”
Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), the organization that accredits facilities like SeaWorld, backed the theme park chain in its own statement criticizing TripAdvisor and noting that travel company Thomas Cook made a similar move the year prior to declaring bankruptcy.
“TripAdvisor is going down the same path as Thomas Cook and should take a close look at what happens to businesses that put extreme opinions ahead of informed customers,” said AZA president and CEO Dan Ashe.
Despite Ashe’s assertion, there’s no evidence that Thomas Cook’s SeaWorld decision was a significant factor in the company’s financial collapse last month.
This story has been updated with a statement from SeaWorld.