Travel giant Thomas Cook is ditching trips to SeaWorld - saying animal welfare concerns prompted the decision.
From next Summer, the company will no longer sell tickets to animal parks that keep killer whales - SeaWorld in Florida, and Loro Parque in Tenerife. According to Thomas Cook Chief Executive, Peter Fankhauser, the decision was not taken lightly.
It is another blow to SeaWorld, which has faced what it's described as 'perception issues' since the 2013 release of documentary Blackfish, which showed abuse of the orcas kept in the facility.
Orcas in captivity
In a blog post, Fankhauser wrote: "From next summer, we will no longer sell any animal attractions that keep orcas in captivity. We have actively engaged with a range of animal welfare specialists in the last 18 months, and taken account of the scientific evidence they have provided.
"We have also taken feedback from our customers, more than 90 percent of whom told us that it was important that their holiday company takes animal welfare seriously.
"And when so many of our customers are so clear in their view, I could not allow our business to ignore them. I am clear about the kind of business that we want to be. That's why we introduced our animal welfare policy 18 months ago, and that's why we've taken this decision today."
Documentary Blackfish blew the whistle on cruel practices at SeaWorld
Animal campaigners have been celebrating the news. According to vegan charity PETA: "There's good reason why a company that touts itself as animal-friendly should refuse to be associated with SeaWorld. The orcas forced to spend their entire lives swimming in circles in its tiny, concrete, chlorinated cells would normally swim up to 100 miles a day.
"They are regularly drugged to manage the resulting stress-induced aggressive behaviour, and 41 orcas and countless other animals have died on SeaWorld’s watch – far short of their natural life expectancies.
"There's no humane way to keep these highly intelligent animals in captivity, let alone force them to perform cruel circus-style tricks for food."
Dr. Chris Draper, Head of Animal Welfare and Captivity at Born Free, added: "The physical, sensory and social environment in which cetaceans live in the wild contrasts dramatically with the restricted and barren tanks found in dolphinariums where cetaceans are kept purely for human 'entertainment'.
"It is our hope that Thomas Cook's lead will cause others in the travel industry to abandon promoting visits to dolphinariums, and that this will mark the beginning of the end for the captive cetacean industry once and for all.
“On a cautionary note, the announcement by Thomas Cook appears to apply only to facilities keeping orca: it remains to be seen whether they or other travel agents respond to the risk of suffering endured by other cetaceans such as dolphins and beluga kept in captivity and take appropriate action.
"Furthermore, it is imperative that we investigate the keeping of cetaceans for entertainment purposes across the globe to ensure that Thomas Cook’s decision does not simply shift the problem from North America and Europe to emerging markets for captive cetaceans in the Middle East, Asia and the Far East."