Thomas Cook stops selling tickets to SeaWorld and attractions that keep orcas in captivity

Thomas Cook has announced that they will no longer sell tickets to attractions that keep orcas in captivity. 

The travel giant has implemented its new animal welfare policy that demands all attractions are ABTA compliant and have gone further to make a stand on this issue.

The move will affect 29 parks including SeaWorld and Loro Parque.

Thomas Cook announced its animal welfare policy 18 months ago. The policy stated that any animal attractions to which the company sold tickets had to be 100 percent compliant with ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents) animal welfare standards.

The company carried out a programme of independent audits of 49 attractions and has removed 29 which did not meet minimum ABTA standards. The remaining 20 have “made significant improvements to the way they treat their animals as a direct result of our audit process” according to Thomas Cook.

This was not a decision we took lightly,” said Peter Fankhauser, CEO of the Thomas Cook Group. “We always said that we would continue to review our policy, conscious that the more we got into this area, the more we would learn, and conscious also of changing customer sentiment.

“Today we are announcing a new addition to our animal welfare policy based on that same principle. 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. That has led us to the decision we have taken today.”

Orca breeding programme stopped

Thomas Cook noted that both SeaWorld and Loro Parque have made improvements to the way they treat animals, as part of the audit process. “We respect and applaud the work that has been done, and we will work with both over the next 12 months to prepare for our exit. We will also continue to work ourselves to identify more sustainable alternatives,” said Fankhauser.

A representative for SeaWorld, talking to The Huffington Post, said that visitors to their parks have “seen first-hand the incredible care we provide all of our animals and learned about how we are protecting and saving species in the wild. Although we have ended breeding for orcas, the current animals in our care will be with us and our visitors for many years to come.”

Dan Ashe, president and CEO of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) spoke out on behalf of SeaWorld. “SeaWorld Orlando is a responsible member and leader within our community that has consistently achieved accreditation for the last 35 years,” he said. “Not only do the dedicated professionals at SeaWorld provide their animals with exceptional care, but they also provide significant support for the rescue of injured marine mammals and sea turtles. Guests to SeaWorld Orlando can be assured that their visit is educational, family-friendly, and supports SeaWorld’s efforts to help save animals from extinction.”

The ban will come into force next summer and will cost the travel giant hundreds of thousands of pounds in sales. It’s thought that the move by Thomas Cook may prompt other travel companies to follow its lead.

Public attitudes to keeping marine mammals in captivity varies by country. While SeaWorld has ceased its orca breeding programme, in 2017 Chimelong opened China’s first orca breeding centre.

Merlin Entertainments announced in June that they have worked with the SEA LIFE Trust to create the world’s first open water sanctuary for beluga whales. The sanctuary was created to rehome two belugas that Merlin now own as a result of the company’s acquisition of Changfeng Ocean World in Shanghai, China.

Image credit: Xinhua/Liu Dawei