Public support flips against dolphin and killer whale marine park shows

World Cetacean Alliance, Responsible Travel & Born Free logos

Media release: 25 May 2014

New poll released

A survey of 2,050 people released today reveals that watching dolphins and killer whales perform tricks in small tanks is no longer on the travel bucket list of the average British tourist. The poll was carried out by Censuswide on behalf of the leading ethical travel company, Responsible Travel, and international wildlife charity, the Born Free Foundation.

Growing public awareness of the ethical issues and physical implications of keeping dolphins and whales in captivity is changing public opinion. A staggering 86% of people surveyed* said they would not wish to visit a marine park to see whales and dolphins as part of an overseas vacation.

Will Travers OBE, President of the Born Free Foundation, said: "Are the days of the dolphinarium over? It seems clear that when presented with the information on which to make an informed decision, British travelers have had enough. It is time to bring the curtain down on the exploitation of whales and dolphins in captivity - just like the exploitation of wild animals in traveling circuses. There are no longer any captive dolphins in the UK and I hope that the result of this survey will hasten the day when there are no captive dolphins kept for public entertainment anywhere in the world. We have a responsibility to make that dream a reality."

Respondents were asked the same question at the beginning of the survey and again at the end, after having read a short statement** setting out facts about wild and captive whales and dolphins.

When initially asked, a clear majority, 61% said they did not wish to visit an overseas marine park to see whales and dolphins. Of those who declared that they would visit, 64% changed their minds after reading the factual statement.

Ethical considerations appear to be the reason for the respondents' decision - 75% of the initial non-supporters felt it was 'wrong to keep whales and dolphins in small tanks', whilst a further 19% said they 'don't support or attend any zoos'.

Justin Francis, Managing Director at Responsible Travel said: "As public awareness of whale and dolphin captivity issues continues to increase, thanks to films such as 'Blackfish' and important campaigns such as our 'Say NO to orca circuses' petition with the World Cetacean Alliance Working Group on Captivity, time is ticking faster than ever before for this industry.

For too long the travel industry has buried its collective head in the sand on this issue. Just as there was a point when circuses' time was up, the same is happening with orca circuses. It's clear that the majority of vacationmakers are not interested in these shows for ethical reasons.

The time has come for travel companies, and the representative body ABTA (Association of British Travel Agents), to face the facts and stop supporting this irresponsible form of tourism."

In our opinion it is morally wrong to keep these super intelligent animals in small, purpose built tanks and train them to perform tricks and stunts to loud music and a cheering crowd.
Justin Francis, Responsible Travel
The time has come to end the keeping of whales and dolphins in captivity. The experts know it, the scientific literature supports it, and the public are increasingly getting it.
Dylan walker, World Cetacean Alliance

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Regional waves of support

  • The Northern Irish were the most unanimous in their distaste of marine shows, with 97% not wishing to visit by the end of the survey.
  • Londoners were the most likely to visit (22% would want to) by the survey's close.
  • Those in the South East were least interested in marine shows (68% did not want to visit) when initially asked.
  • Those in the North West were most interested (45% wanted to visit) when initially asked.
  • The Northern Irish were most likely to change their minds after reading the facts, and Londoners were the least easily swayed.

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In April this year, Responsible Travel and the World Cetacean Alliance launched a petition to encourage the travel industry to stop supporting killer whale and dolphin shows. The petition has already been signed by over 8,500 individuals, travel companies, charities, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and other businesses.

See our 'Say NO to orca circuses' petition

* Survey was carried out by Censuswide on behalf of Responsible Travel and the Born Free Foundation. A total of 2050 people responded online in the UK between 2nd May - 8th May 2014.

** Statement read by respondents before the final question:

Captive whales and dolphins are kept in marine parks and visited by tourists on vacation. They are highly intelligent, social animals. In the wild, they:

  • live in family groups, called pods of up to 100 individuals
  • have considerably higher life expectancies than their counterparts in captivity
  • can swim the equivalent distance of London to Sheffield (260km) or more in one day
  • are capable of diving to depths greater than the height of Niagara Falls (60m) and hunting live fish using sophisticated techniques

In captivity these animals are confined to tanks, they are fed dead fish and commonly develop problems such as abnormal repetitive behaviour and aggression. They are trained to perform tricks and stunts, often to loud music and a cheering crowd.

I believe it's time the entire travel and tourism industry took a long, hard look at what is going on with the captive cetacean industry.
Justin Francis, Responsible Travel
Tellingly, now even those vacation companies that make money from ticket sales to marine park dolphin shows are beginning to vote with their feet. We applaud the situation and taking a stand.
Dylan walker, World Cetacean Alliance

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Notes to editors

Dolphins and killer whales in captivity

Over 2000 dolphins, 227 beluga whales, 52 killer whales, 37 porpoises and 17 false killer whales (collectively referred to as 'cetaceans') are held in 343 captive dolphin facilities in 63 countries across the world. The majority of captive cetaceans are used in circus-style performances, often accompanied by loud music, as a form of entertainment. Cetaceans are also used in interactive sessions with the public both in terms of recreation, such as swim-with and in petting activities, as a prop within a souvenir photograph and as part of therapy, for people with disabilities.

In the wild, the smallest bottlenose dolphin home ranges are in the order of 125 square kilometres. Orcas can dive as deep as 400 metres2 and may travel as far as 260 kilometres in a day. Almost always in motion, cetaceans spend only 20% or less of their time at the water's surface. Captive facilities cannot compare to the vast natural environment of wild cetaceans and even the largest facilities are just a fraction of the animals' natural home range in size. When denied adequate space, these large, wide-ranging carnivores commonly develop problems such as abnormal repetitive behaviour, aggression and in some species, early mortality.

In addition Responsible Travel:

  • founded and organises The World Responsible Tourism Awards, celebrating 11 years at World Travel Market this year.
  • campaigns for positive change in the travel and tourism industry.
  • publishes an expanding series of honest, expert 2 minute travel guides.

CEO Justin Francis has been included in Courvoisiers The Future 500, Thames and Hudsons 60 Innovators Shaping Our Creative Future and taken his place on the Advisory Board of The Centre for Responsible Tourism at Manchester Metropolitan University.

The company is based in Brighton's North Laine district, England.

I hope the travel and tourism industry can translate the current tide of public sentiment into real action on this issue.
Justin Francis, Responsible Travel
Just as nothing can justify the use of tamed wild animals in circuses, I believe the time has come to end orca and dolphin circuses too.
Justin Francis, Responsible Travel

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About Born Free Foundation

Born Free Foundation is a dynamic international wildlife charity, founded by Virginia McKenna and Bill Travers following their starring roles in the classic film Born Free. Today, led by their son Will Travers, Born Free is working worldwide for wild animal welfare and compassionate conservation.

Born Free supports and manages a diverse range of projects and campaigns. The charity embraces both compassion and science in setting an agenda that seeks to influence, inspire and encourage a change in public opinion away from keeping wild animals in captivity, while in the short-term working with governments, the travel industry and like-minded organisations to seek compliance with existing legislation and improving the welfare conditions. This has included the development of ABTA's Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism. Through its Compassionate Conservation agenda, Born Free provides protection for threatened species and their habitats across the globe. Working with local communities, Born Free develops humane solutions to ensure that people and wildlife can live together without conflict. In 2013, the Born Free Foundation received the World Tourism Award, for its commitment to conservation.

Please visit the Born Free Foundation website for more information.

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About the World Cetacean Alliance

The World Cetacean Alliance (WCA) is a network of 53 partners in 19 countries across North America, Latin America and the Caribbean, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Oceania. WCA partners work together to conserve and protect cetaceans and their habitats in all of the world's oceans, seas and rivers, acknowledging that cetaceans have the right to live free and in the wild.

Please visit the World Cetacean Alliance website for more information.

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  • Shirley Galligan, PR Director, The Born Free Foundation T: 0207 792 9668 M: 07773 848352
  • Victoria Lockwood, PR Officer, The Born Free Foundation T: 01403 240170 M: 07920 195512
  • Tom Gibson, PR Executive, Responsible Travel T: 01273 829271,
Written by Justin Francis