British Airways is the latest U.K. travel company — and the second in the past month — to announce it will no longer promote attractions that feature captive animals, which includes SeaWorld Orlando. 

In a press release, the company said as part of an “animal welfare strategy” with wildlife organization Born Free, it will no longer sell tickets or offer tours to those attractions, effective immediately. 

“Our customers tell us they have concerns about wild animals being kept in captivity, and increasingly see animal performances in particular as outdated,” said British Airways Holidays’ managing director Claire Bentley. 

Virgin Holidays and travel agency Thomas Cook have made similar moves. Numerous other travel providers have severed their relationship with SeaWorld, including United Airlines, Spirit Airlines, Southwest Airlines, AAA Northeast and Air Canada.  

It’s not clear whether any of these moves have had a material impact on SeaWorld Orlando’s business. The park’s parent company has reported gains in attendance and revenue for six straight quarters. Just this week, it reported that 9.8 million guests have passed through the gates at its parks through the first half of 2019.  

The British Airways decision was quickly praised by animal rights groups like the Animal Welfare Institute. 

“A growing number of tourism-related businesses clearly see the future,” said Naomi Rose, marine mammal scientist for AWI. “They realize that their customer base no longer wants to see intelligent dolphins and whales performing circus tricks. Now it’s time for the marine theme parks to get the message.” 

SeaWorld and its allies, however, reacted by criticizing groups like AWI and PETA. 

“When radical animal rights activists mislead and manipulate the truth to the detriment of our planet’s critically endangered animals, you have to question their motives,” SeaWorld Entertainment CEO Gus Antorcha said in a statement. “Pressuring companies and trying to shame them into cutting ties with independently accredited zoos and aquariums works against the vital research and conservation work to protect these animals.”

In a letter to British Airways encouraging them to reverse course, Madelon Willemsen, CEO of the British and Irish Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said that the airline’s position “has been informed by an animal rights perspective rather than by an evidence-based assessment of animal welfare standards.”

“All zoo and aquarium association members not only adhere to legislation but go above and beyond through their own code of conduct and have strong programmes of animal welfare assessments, guidelines and policies in place,” Willemsen wrote. “We believe therefore that there should not be a blanket ban, but a robust way of identifying the appropriate organisations for your clients to visit.”

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8 Responses

  1. Laura Graham

    As an expert in wildlife research and recovery (including welfare) I am telling your readers that this rise in the anti-zoo and aquarium rhetoric does far more harm than good to wildlife conservation. Accredited zoos and aquariums are critical to wildlife conservation and research. Also, they are far more invested in advancing the welfare of animals in their care than any other group of humans caring for animals (agriculture, pet industry, equine industry, hunters, etc). Unfortunately they are an easier target than the large animal industries because they are in the public view more.

    • Sophie


      • JM

        Thank you for not listening to anything Laura said (sarcasm here). She’s an expert in these matters, not you. You would be very wise to listen here. Films like Blackfish have exaggerated the matter considerably. So have many of the animal rights groups. It seems you have taken a good drink of their Kool-Aid.

        Go ahead and free those Orcas. You will find half or more of them dead on the beaches within two weeks. And that will be on you.

  2. JM

    It will remain to be seen whether any of these actions will have a lasting impact on SeaWorld. Blackfish did, of course, but Blackfish may be lightning that may not strike twice.

    Since the days of Blackfish, SeaWorld has made great strides improving their parks, with more rides for a more varied experience. I like the parks because they are not just completely coaster-driven (though there is plenty of room for more coasters). The addition of Sesame Street this year is great. It changes the park dynamic a bit and offers new experiences to really compete with the Disney experience.

    I say all this to say consider this: these new actions could indeed have the OPPOSITE effect they intend. SeaWorld could experience attendance BOOSTS from this controversy. I suspect it’s the Chik-Fil-A affect again – controversy breeds curiosity, and that curiosity turns into repeat business when those curious become customers and enjoy the experience.

  3. Craig Shapiro

    If SeaWorld wants to point fingers, look in the mirror. If it wants these travel agencies back on board, stop exploiting animals.

    • JM

      As I stated, they may not need these agencies at all. Their attendance is doing just fine. It is too early to tell whether this will even make an impact.

      And I argue that it may have the OPPOSITE effect. We’ve seen that with Chik-Fil-A, when they are in the news for saying something controversial, or when the mayor of a town blocks the building of one, the other locations tend to have a boost of business. The controversy breeds curiosity. Curiosity breeds sales.

      I would also like to point out that these agencies had no problem with SeaWorld for decades (in Virgin’s case – exactly decades). It wasn’t until this year that it changed. This is AFTER the Blackfish controversy and AFTER SeaWorld has announced the end of many of its longstanding programs.

      Do not think for a minute that these agencies actually stand for animal welfare. They could not care less. This is a political move intended to resonate with people of your ilk. Nothing more. Nothing less. That is all.

  4. Sophie

    So disgusting how can people just let them do this to those poor whales and animals I can not believe that in 2019 they are still getting away with it let the orcas go!!!

    • JM

      Oh please. It is not that simple. Most captive animals that are released to the wild die very soon after having been released. Turn all the Orcas in SeaWorld loose, and half or more then will be found beached within a week. The animals have come to depend on man – whether that is right or wrong – so much that their very survival is built on man’s interaction.

      And look. All the complaints against dolphins and Orcas in captivity have been greatly exaggerated. You’ve been deceived far more than you realize. Captivity is not as harmful to the animals as you believe. In fact, in the case of the dolphins, it is often a welcome reprieve. Many of them were caught in nets and injured. SeaWorld and other parks helps rehabilitate them.

      Man’s relation with these creatures is mutual and beneficial. You may not like the entertainment aspect, but that is where the money comes from to keep these conservation programs going.

      Go ahead. Drain the tanks. Shut down SeaWorld. Release the Orcas. When you find them dead on the beach, that’s on you. You did it.