Some of the world’s largest travel companies are “reaping billions in profits” from the sale of “cruel” captive dolphin attractions, a new report claims.
World Animal Protection’s recent Behind the Smile report says millions of tourists are unwittingly supporting the routine and systematic abuse of dolphins.
“Our report shows how animal lovers are fooled into thinking dolphin shows are sold as cruelty-free, educational and good for conservation efforts,” says WAP.
“But this could not be further from the truth – the industry is profiting billions of dollars from the cruel captivity of dolphins kept for entertainment.”
WAP explicitly singles out Expedia Group and its brands as one company not only offering for sale most of the top 10 dolphin facilities worldwide, “but also many more”.
“Thirty-two dolphin facilities across many countries were offered by one or multiple companies belonging to Expedia Group,” the report reads. “Therefore, Expedia Group’s ticket sales to these facilities alone is enough to support the keeping of more than 500 dolphins in inhumane conditions. They are a significant driver of the dolphin industry.”
The title of the report refers to the distinctive “smile” associated with dolphins owing to the shape of their jaw, which WAP says contrasts with the "inherent suffering" dolphins experience at every stage of their life in captivity.
According to WAP, dolphins tend to inhabit around 100 square kilometres of ocean freely in their natural habitat but are typically housed, in captivity, in concrete tanks 200,000 times smaller where they can swim only a few metres.
The organisation claims captive dolphins are routinely exposed to infection and chemicals, and are drugged to cope; they are reportedly used as “live surfboards” and are forced to endure large crowds, loud music and cheering day in, day out.
The report identifies 336 public facilities worldwide which account, collectively, for around 3,000 captive dolphins. Of these, 60% are kept across just five countries – China, Japan, the US, Mexico and Russia.
WAP, meanwhile, estimates all captive dolphins in the tourism sector generate between $1.1 billion and $5.5 billion a year.
Nick Stewart, WAP global head of dolphins campaign, said: “Dolphin entertainment is animal cruelty masquerading as wholesome family fun. Whether bred in captivity or captured from the wild by being torn from their mother’s side, these sociable, intelligent animals are imprisoned for life and are reduced to begging clowns performing circus-tricks in exchange for food.
“For a wild animal like dolphins, a life spent in a concrete box is not a life, it is a life sentence – we need to make this the last generation of dolphins in captivity.”
WAP’s report praises 11 of the world’s largest travel companies for not selling any of the top 10 dolphin facilities, including Virgin Holidays and British Airways Holidays.
“A few of these companies have developed progressive policies that avoid all – or at least the worst – captive wildlife activities,” read the report.
“Recent additions to the list of progressive travel companies are Booking.com, Virgin Holidays and British Airways Holidays who, in 2019, all announced policies of not selling or promoting captive dolphin and whale attractions.”
An Expedia Group spokesperson told TTG: “Expedia Group brands can play an integral role in educating travellers about wildlife tourism, so they can make informed decisions on how they travel and interact with the animals on our planet.
“Over the past few years, we have taken steps to remove certain wildlife activities from our sites, not only in reaction to questionable and unsafe practices but in reaction to direct feedback from our travellers.
“For all animal-related activities we not only review them carefully but also work with global, industry-leading wildlife and animal protection groups to help inform our decision-making.
“Our efforts are ongoing and in light of the World Animal Protection Group’s report, we will continue to examine our policies, particularly as they relate to partners who may not have the certification of various animal welfare and accreditation programmes.”