Call to boycott Dolphin Quest
An international animal rights group has launched a campaign to get travel agencies to boycott animal attractions such as Bermuda’s Dolphin Quest.
But the company hit back with an appeal to its customer base and sea creature conservationists to defend the work of the company against “animal rights extremists”.
Rae Stone, the co-founder of Dolphin Quest, said that major organisations including World Animal Protection and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, were on a “misguided” and “malicious crusade” to close all zoos, aquariums and marine parks.
Dr Stone, a vet, said in her letter to Dolphin Quest “Ocean Action Team members”: “This ban includes accredited and humane certified programmes like Dolphin Quest.”
“Pressuring travel platforms to discontinue support of leading accredited zoological institutions will harm the very animals these organisations claim to protect.
“The natural consequence will be a loss of funding created by responsible tourism for critical scientific studies, conservation programmes and to cover the high cost of providing extraordinary animal care.”
Dr Stone was speaking after the two groups targeted travel companies such as booking.com and expedia.com and asked them to stop promotion and ticket sales for places that they claimed exploited animals held in captivity.
Dr Stone and Jay Sweeney, also a vet, opened the first Dolphin Quest in Hawaii in 1988.
Its Bermudian operation started in 1996 near the Fairmont Southampton and later moved to Dockyard after a hurricane destroyed the original enclosure.
A portion of the company’s worldwide proceeds is donated to support marine education, conservation and research.
But a spokeswoman for World Animal Protection, which launched the campaign to pressure the Expedia Group to stop earning profits through promotion of the “cruel, multibillion-dollar captive dolphin industry”, said that attractions such as Dolphin Quest overplayed the importance of their role in conservation.
The spokeswoman insisted: “Even though some facilities have better conditions than others, a relatively large tank is still a tank — tiny, barren and devoid of natural stimulation.”
She added that the Dolphin Quest site at the Keep in Dockyard gave “a good context of why even large sea pens aren’t close to providing an environment that a dolphin actually needs to thrive in”.
The spokeswoman said: “Sheltered in a port where large cruise ships dock just 100 metres away from the sea pens, and nested between buildings, this is not an environment suited for dolphins.”
She added: “For these facilities to now hold the travel industry hostage by claiming that only through them the welfare of the dolphins can be ensured, while continuing to expand, is highly questionable.
“Ultimately, any commercial facility that makes a profit from captive wild animals has the responsibility of their care and needs to be prepared to revise practices or shift their animals to facilities that are able to do so.”
The spokeswoman added: “The profit made by such institutions that refuse to stop breeding captive dolphins is prolonging a fundamentally inhumane situation.
“Travel companies selling captive dolphin attractions is a form of irresponsible tourism as it provides the financial incentive for more dolphins to be bred into this commercial industry.”
But Dr Stone said that paying customers had contributed “millions of dollars in support of critically important marine mammal conservation, education and scientific studies to protect wild dolphins”.
And she asked supporters to contact the chief executives at booking.com and expedia.com to back Dolphin Quest.
Dr Stone accused the animal welfare groups of confusion between responsible operators and those that exploited wild animals held in captivity.
She said: “Lumping selfies with sloths stolen from the Amazon jungle with meaningful animal experiences in world renowned zoological institutions illustrates their ignorance of true animal welfare.”
Dr Stone added: “They either don’t care about dolphins or haven’t thought through the consequences of their malicious crusade.”
She highlighted Dolphin Quest’s accreditation by bodies including the Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, and the International Marine Animal Trainers’ Association.
She added that Dolphin Quest operations were also certified by major US animal charity American Humane.
Dr Stone said: “Animal species are disappearing at an alarming rate due, in large part, to human impact on the environment.
“It is more important than ever to inspire environmental stewardship through meaningful animal experiences in tourism like Dolphin Quest.”
The Bermuda Tourism Authority, booking.com and expedia.com did not respond to requests for comment.
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