City-based travel company leads the shift to responsible tourism

A pod of spinner dolphins in the Red Sea
A pod of spinner dolphins in the Red Sea

If, like me, you have lived in Brighton too long for your own good, you might remember the rather unpleasant spectacle of a dolphin show.

If, like me, you have lived in Brighton too long for your own good, you might remember the rather unpleasant spectacle of a dolphin show. Back in the 1980s, Brighton played home to its own pod of captive dolphins, much to the delight of those who came to see the animals in what was then a very popular show.

The shifting moral zeitgeist has, quite rightly, witnessed a more enlightened and responsible relationship to animal welfare and it seems incredible to think now that such large mammals were contained in subterranean dank.

Brighton has a unique and not altogether positive place in the history of cetacean conservation. So it is apt then that a leading travel company that has focused its energy on the plight of captive whales and dolphins comes from our own city by the sea.

Responsibletravel.com, a pioneer of responsible tourism, has published details of a recent survey that indicates that fewer and fewer of us want to see captive species as part of our holiday.

The survey of 2,050 people - conducted by Censuswide on behalf of Responsibletravel.com and Born Free Foundation, the international wildlife charity - reveals that awareness of the ethical issues and physical implications of keeping dolphins and whales in captivity is changing public opinion; nearly nine in 10 (86%) said they would not wish to visit a marine park to see the animals.

The survey presents some of the issues that blight the captive creatures, including the fact that they are confined to tanks, are fed dead fish, and commonly develop problems such as abnormal repetitive behaviour and aggression.

Justin Francis, managing director at responsibletravel.com, said: “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 holidaymakers 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.”

Will Travers, president of the Born Free Foundation, said, “It seems clear that when presented with the information on which to make an informed decision, British travellers have had enough. 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.”

Last month, Responsibletravel.com and the World Cetacean Alliance launched a petition to encourage the travel industry to stop supporting killer whale and dolphin shows. The petition has been signed by more than 8,500 individuals, travel companies, charities, non-governmental organisations, and other businesses.

A long way has most certainly come since Brighton’s own exploited pod did its best to entertain its audience. And thank goodness for that. But whether the spectre of whales and dolphins held in captivity will ever be consigned to history, as it has been in Brighton, remains to be seen.