Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 13 December 2019

Virgin Holidays to stop selling tickets to dolphin attractions at Dubai hotel

Virgin boss Richard Branson said the move was part of a policy to only work with companies that do not take sea creatures from the wild

Virgin Holidays has announced it is to stop selling tickets to dolphin experiences at Atlantis, The Palm.   
Virgin Holidays has announced it is to stop selling tickets to dolphin experiences at Atlantis, The Palm.   

A UK tour operator is to stop selling tickets to a popular dolphin experience at a Dubai hotel as part of a global approach to discourage the use of captive creatures as tourist attractions.

Virgin Holidays announced it is to halt sales and promotions of five captive whale and dolphin holiday packages across the world, including at the five-star Atlantis, The Palm.

Atlantis, The Palm provides tourists and UAE residents with what it calls a “once in a lifetime” opportunity to get up close and personal with the marine mammals at its Dolphin Bay.

The shallow water interaction, which is open to all ages, allows guests to swim with dolphins and even touch them under the supervision of a trainer.

“Virgin Holidays will end the sales and promotion of tourism attractions that involve captive cetaceans,” Virgin boss Richard Branson wrote in a blog.

He said it was part of “The Virgin Pledge”, a commitment made in 2014 that Virgin businesses would only work with suppliers that don’t take sea creatures from the wild.

Atlantis, The Palm declined an interview with The National and refused to comment on the development.

The other four venues that Virgin Holidays have stopped selling dolphin and whale show tickets to are the two SeaWorlds in San Diego and Orlando, Discovery Cove,also in Orlando, and Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas.

Shortly after the announcement, SeaWorld hit back at Virgin Holidays with a strongly worded statement saying that animal activists “mislead and manipulate marine mammal science to advance their agendas.”

"No company does more to protect marine mammals and advance cetacean research, rescue and conservation than us," SeaWorld added.

But a UAE conservationist said keeping animals confined has a negative impact on them.

“Any kind of captivity is always detrimental for wild animals, especially for highly evolved species like dolphins and whales,” said Dr Ada Natoli, a marine conservationist and founder of the UAE Dolphin Project.

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“There really is not much you can do to make it any better for the animals except not having them in captivity in the first place.”

Dr Natoli and her team investigate the UAE’s dolphin population along the country’s coastline and collect data to support their conservation.

She said her years of observing and studying dolphins have showed her that the mammals are highly social animals that aren’t supposed to be confined to small spaces.

“Science tells us that dolphins are not only highly intelligent creatures, but that they rely on a strong social structure of families and friends,” said Dr Natoli.

“They have they own language, they call each other with names, they even make sure that they pass on knowledge to their offspring so they can live a better life in their habitat.”

“If people knew this, they can easily draw their own conclusions on whether captivity is good or bad for them.”

Dr Natoli said more needs to be done to safeguard the UAE’s native population of dolphins.

“Dubai and Abu Dhabi are blessed to have their own wild dolphin population that roam their waters.

“We should focus more in protecting them and their local marine environment instead of promoting captive dolphin facilities.”

Updated: July 21, 2019 05:04 PM