Cetaceans in captivity
Our response to Richard Branson's pledge
Here, Justin Francis, co-founder and MD of Responsible Travel, responds to Richard Branson's public commitment to a six month stakeholder engagement process to discuss the keeping of cetaceans in captivity. He outlines his thoughts on some of the areas up for debate.
The role of captive cetaceans for education and raising awareness
I don?t think that you can justify keeping these super intelligent and social animals in captivity on the basis of education or awareness raising. If this was your objective there are far, far better ways to educate people, not least many of the outstanding documentaries on TV or responsible wild experiences with trained naturalists. In my opinion the nature of these shows, with tricks performed by animals in small tanks, serves no real purpose in educating people about how to respect these animals ? in fact it achieves the opposite!
The issue of training captive cetaceans for entertainment
Lions and tigers used to perform tricks in circuses for education in the UK, but this rarely if ever happens now because society felt it was wrong. Why should it be ok for cetaceans but not lions and tigers? Awareness is building very fast around this issue.
The welfare of captive cetaceans, including the space given to them
I would like to ask Virgin to define the standard of welfare that you believe are necessary for it to be acceptable to keep cetaceans in captivity? There are no standards of welfare that I believe any cetacean expert in the world would agree justifies this. You will never reach a standard that can be acceptable to experts, activists or the public and so pursuing this as your strategy can never lead to a successful outcome for you.
The breeding of cetaceans in captivity
It?s not acceptable to breed cetaceans to perform for tourists. In the same way society does not accept the breeding of lions and tigers to perform in circuses. As before, it is unacceptable to treat super intelligent mammals this way. Those tour operators and agents that sell tickets essentially help support demand and encourage breeding. If you read Richard Branson?s blogs on his respect for these animals then it seems impossible to me to square this with breeding them to perform tricks.
The reintroduction of captive cetaceans into the wild
This seems to me to be a crutch the industry is using to avoid taking the necessary moral decisions. Was it necessary for a home to be found for every slave before a decision was taken to ban slavery? No, it was not.
You cannot use this as an excuse to delay action, because more cetaceans are being bred (or captured) to perform and you are supporting this through ticket sales.
There is a lot of work going on around what to do should they be released, and others are better qualified than me to explain the solutions to you. I'm confident there will be solutions when the time comes.