Featured Image Credit: SeaWorld
Another day, another publicity stunt by a for-profit company to curry favor with (or avoid attacks from) extreme animal rights organizations. Just a couple of years removed from working with the zoological community, the vacation booking service, Virgin Holidays, released a media statement today patting themselves on the back for deciding to halt sales and promotions of certain whale and dolphin attractions like SeaWorld and Discovery Cove.
Virgin Holidays stated, among other things, “…we have now decided the time is right to discontinue offering attractions featuring close encounters with captive whales and dolphins and “we look to focus on offering customers more natural, at-distance encounters with these animals”.
The backlash on this decision from the science community was swift and unequivocal. First, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums released a statement saying, “the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is very disappointed Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Holidays singled out AZA-accredited members in their announcement. AZA’s accreditation standards are regarded as the “gold standard” among zoological facilities, and include specific standards related to dolphins and whales.”
But the criticism didn’t stop there. Research scientists and marine biologists who actively work to protect threatened cetacean
populations were particularly outraged. One example was a Facebook post from Dr. Kelly Jaakkola, a research scientist from the Dolphin Research Center. She states, “From a scientific perspective, this decision is truly baffling. It shows that Virgin has been getting their (mis)information exclusively from animal activists instead of paying attention to the actual, current scientific information surrounding this issue.”
On Twitter, the response to Sir Richard Bransen was equally strong. Dolphin scientist, Dr. Jason Bruck tweeted about how Virgin Holidays’ decision would actually hurt conservation and research work.
As a scientist focused on dolphins I couldn’t disagree with you more here. These facilities (especially in NA and Europe) work with us to conserve whales by supporting research efforts. They allow us to work with animals in controlled environments to test new tools. pic.twitter.com/fcDGp70CVp
— Dr. Jason Bruck (@JasonBruck) July 16, 2019
It’s pretty clear that the scientific world is telling Virgin Holiday that their actions will lead to more dolphin and whale deaths in the wild as funding and opportunities for research and conservation dry up.
If Virgin Holidays is really out to save animals, and not fall prey to PETA’s oft-discredited smear campaign of SeaWorld they should take a moment to read up on the multiple biologists that have spoken out in defense of SeaWorld and other accredited facilities. The science community is taking a stand in an effort to protect the invaluable research and funding such facilities have provided for marine life conservation.
It’s time the public sides with scientists who are fighting to save the oceans and the animals that live there and stop supporting the publicity stunts. It’s disappointing to see Sir Richard Branson veer away from his path of commitment to aiding conservation to the side with extremists. The scientific community should continue to let him hear their voices.