Thomas Cook axes trips to captive killer whale attractions including SeaWorld

The plight of killer whales at resorts such as Seaworld has been the focus of many animal rights groups for at least the past decade. Credit: PA

Holiday firm Thomas Cook has announced it will stop selling trips to animal parks that keep killer whales, including SeaWorld and Loro Parque.

The tour operator said the decision was made because of customer feedback and evidence from animal welfare specialists.

The announcement was made by the company’s boss Peter Fankhauser in a blog posted on Sunday.

“This was not a decision we took lightly,” he wrote.

“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% 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.”

Killer whales, widely regarded as amongst the most intelligent animals on earth, have long been the subject of shows at Seaworld. Credit: AP

From next summer, the travel agent will no longer offer tickets to any attractions where captive orcas are kept.

The decision will see Thomas Cook stop selling trips to two attractions – SeaWorld and Loro Parque, in Tenerife.

Both had passed the firm’s audit process, which saw 29 other attractions removed from its books, following the announcement of a new animal welfare policy around 18 months ago.

Mr Frankauser said: “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.

Seaworld has been the location for several killer whale protests in recent years. Credit: AP

“We will also continue to work ourselves to identify more sustainable alternatives.”

The move follows a public backlash towards keeping killer whales in captivity that gathered pace after the release of the 2013 documentary Blackfish.

The film argued that orcas held in captivity become more aggressive towards humans and each other.

What about other travel companies?

Virgin Holidays continue to sell to SeaWorld. Credit: PA
  • Virgin

"Whilst Virgin Holidays continues to sell SeaWorld, we have publicly stated many times that the way tourists interact with whales and dolphins needs to change. As it stands, there are no places for the animals currently in captivity to go. Rather than walk away from those whales and dolphins in captivity entirely, we have opted to launch several initiatives aimed at evolving industry standards and be a force for positive change.

This includes a commitment not to sell or promote any new attractions or hotels featuring captive whales and dolphins, a partnership with the World Cetacean Alliance to launch global guidelines for wild whale watching and a significant investment in a project from The National Aquarium of Baltimore that will relocate captive dolphins to coastal sanctuaries for the first time.

An abrupt decision to take attractions featuring whales and dolphins off sale doesn’t address the needs of those currently in captivity, and would minimise our ability to exert positive influence."

TUI still continue to sell tickets to Sea World. Credit: PA
  • TUI

A spokesperson told ITV News, "tickets to SeaWorld and Loro Parque are still on sale."

"TUI takes an active approach to animal welfare. In 2013 TUI collaborated with ABTA to launch the first “Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism” and in the same year TUI engaged with suppliers of all our animal excursions to publicize the guidelines and to begin the process of auditing, the first tourism company to do so.

We commit to work only with excursion venues which agree to work to this guidance and we are implementing an extensive and independent audit programme of the venues we feature to ensure that welfare standards are being upheld in line with them. As a result many excursion venues have made improvements to their animal welfare practices, and we have withdrawn from sale any that do not."

British Airways is conducting a review of its policy. Credit: PA
  • British Airways

British Airways told ITV News that they are "conducting a review."

"Animal welfare is as important to us as we know it is to our customers, and that's why we are currently undertaking a thorough and wide-ranging review of our policy around animal attractions.

"As things stand now we do not sell animal related tours and attractions if we cannot be assured that they have rigorous welfare standards in place."