In a big step for animal rights, TripAdvisor (SmarterTravel’s parent company) recently announced it will no longer “sell tickets to, or generate revenue from, any attraction that continues to contribute to the captivity of future generations of cetaceans.” The policy on whale and dolphin activities is part of TripAdvisor’s broader commitment to improving the welfare of animals globally, particularly animals in tourism, which began in 2016 when the company adopted an animal attractions policy. Both guidelines extend to TripAdvisor’s activity-booking service Viator, as well.
TripAdvisor says it consulted with marine biologists, zoologists and conservationists before making the decision, and considered the scientific evidence and arguments presented. It’s widely known that orcas, for example, do not thrive in captivity; their life expectancy drops substantially, as does their quality of life. Orcas in the wild typically swim 40 miles a day on average, according to National Geographic, and dive up to 150 feet several times day. They simply can’t do this in an aquarium.
“The extensive evidence presented to us by the experts was compelling. Whales and dolphins do not thrive in limited captive environments, and we hope to see a future where they live as they should—free and in the wild,” said Dermot Halpin, President, TripAdvisor Experiences and Rentals. “We believe the current generation of whales and dolphins in captivity should be the last, and we look forward to seeing this position adopted more widely throughout the travel industry.”
The Policy in Practice
TripAdvisor does have some notable exceptions to what is generally a straightforward policy. First, it acknowledges that animals currently in captivity typically cannot be released into the wild. To that end, TripAdvisor will make allowances for providers that place their animals in seaside sanctuaries. A seaside sanctuary is exactly what it sounds like, essentially a coastal body of water such as a bay, where cetaceans can be contained but allowed to live in as close to a natural environment as possible.
TripAdvisor will still sell tickets if a company provides or is in the process of developing seaside sanctuary facilities for all captive cetaceans in its care. Exception will also be made for companies accredited by the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums that promise to “cease and prevent the breeding of cetaceans … cease the importation of captive cetaceans from other facilities for public display, and cease the capture and importation of wild cetaceans for public display.”
“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,” said Halpin. “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.”
Growing Awareness, Changing Attitudes
People’s attitudes toward captive animals are changing, and this policy reflects a shift toward greater concern around animal tourism. TripAdvisor already has a similar policy in place for companies that sell activities like elephant rides and tiger petting experiences, two cases where the animals in question often lead miserable lives. These experiences have grown in popularity thanks in large part to social media, but that popularity has also brought attention to the poor conditions these animals live in.
Concern for whales and dolphins goes back further, but attractions like SeaWorld whale and dolphin activities and other marine parks remained popular despite outcry from animal rights activists. The public’s attitude has shifted significantly in the past several years following the 2013 release of Blackfish, a documentary about the lives of SeaWorld’s beloved orcas.
“TripAdvisor is on the right side of history,” said Dr. Naomi Rose, Marine Mammal Scientist, Animal Welfare Institute, in a release from TripAdvisor. “Whales and dolphins cannot thrive in captivity and enlightened tourists no longer tolerate exploiting these intelligent and socially complex marine predators for human entertainment.”
Incidentally, as part of the TripAdvisor family, SmarterTravel’s editorial policy on animal tourism is aligned with TripAdvisor’s, and has been since 2016.
Readers: Has your opinion changed about whale and dolphin activities? Comment below.