British Airways - stop selling trips to SeaWorld!

| 13th October 2013
Impressive and exciting, for sure. But what kind of life is it for an orca? Photo: Orca and trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida by Jeff Kraus via Flickr.

Impressive and exciting, for sure. But what kind of life is it for an orca? Photo: Orca and trainer at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida by Jeff Kraus via Flickr.

British Airways' commercial partnership with SeaWorld condones the physical and psychological suffering of orcas in captivity, writes Kathleen Haase, who meets the company's executives today. Her aim - to stop the sale of package holidays to SeaWorld parks and expose cetacean captivity as cruel and unethical.
British Airways could be the first major UK airline to sever its commercial ties with the company - and lead aviation into a new and more enlightened era.

Orcas are magificent, intelligent, self-aware, wide ranging predators of the open ocean. I have long found their captivity for public entertainment abhorrent.

My sense of outrage only increased as I began to follow the Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) in 2012, and learnt more about cetaceans from their website, Facebook page and other sources.

And it's not just me. When the movie Blackfish came out in July 2013, it sparked a huge debate about whether cetaceans should be kept in captivity at all.

Dr. Naomi Rose, a marine mammal scientist at the Animal Welfare Institute, outlines categorically in her paper 'Killer Controversy: Why Orcas Should No Longer Be Kept in Captivity' why keeping large cetaceans like orcas is so controversial. She writes:

"Captivity cannot adequately provide for such large, social, wide-ranging predators. A captive orca bears little resemblance to a wild one and the evidence is mounting that these animals, raised within or born into profoundly abnormal circumstances, are themselves abnormal."

Animal rights extremists?

As a signatory to a petition against SeaWorld calling on various bands to cancel their concerts at the company's parks, I was extremely upset at the company's response. Instead of entering into a reasonable and informed debate, they called the participants "a small group of misinformed individuals".

They also dismissed people campaigning against the use of orcas in captivity as "animal rights extremists". I felt personally offended by those two statements as I'm an ordinary member of the public who never engaged in any extreme activities. So I decided to take an active stand against SeaWorld.

But of course, no matter what petitions we sign, no matter what scientists say about the needs of wild cetaceans, SeaWorld is not likely to change its mind - because cetacean captivity is a core part of their profit-generating business model.

When I found out that British Airways sells trips to SeaWorld I was outraged but I thought to myself:

"Unlike SeaWorld, British Airways do not rely on cetaceans being held in captivity to survive as a business. For BA, this is just a gimmicky extra that they hope will sell a few more tickets. The association with SeaWorld may even do them harm, damaging their reputation."

My petition now has over 245,000 signatures

So on 22nd May 2012 I launched my petition on asking British Airways to stop selling trips to SeaWorld. Since then, with WDC's support from the outset, it has gathered incredible support with (at time of writing) 245,528 signatures.

British Airways could be the first major UK airline to sever its commercial ties with the company - and lead aviation into a new and more enlightened era.

And that was enough for BA to take note. Last month I received a letter from BA asking me to meet and discuss the issue of orca captivity - and that meeting will be held in London on Monday, 13th October.

I will tell them that British Airways has an incredible opportunity to send a clear message to SeaWorld and other operators that their business is unethical and outdated.

British Airways could be the first major UK airline to sever its commercial ties with the company - and lead aviation into a new and more enlightened era.

But BA isn't the only company that's been targetted for its SeaWorld links. Southwest Airlines have severed ties with SeaWorld after a quarter-century of partnership. STA travel have dropped SeaWorld from their list of partners and Outdoorplay refuse to do business with them.

WDC are also campaigning against Virgin and other UK airlines including Thompson, Thomas Cook and Cosmos. Taco Bell, Groupon and American Express are currently being petitioned to end their commercial partnerships, amongst many others.

Virgin - better than nothing, but not good enough

Following the launch of WDC's campaign targeting Sir Richard Branson, Virgin announced a six months long engagement process with the captivity industry, organisations like WDC, and other whale and dolphin experts.

In September, Sir Richard Branson released the results of this engagements process which states that Virgin will no longer do business with companies who do not sign his pledge to never take receipt of cetaceans caught in the wild after 14th Feburary 2014.

While Sir Richard's willingness to engage with the issue of cetacean captivity should be applauded, his pledge does not improve the situation for cetaceans already in captivity. The pledge excludes cetaceans captured in the wild before the 14th February (2014) and excludes every cetacean bred in captivity. WDC states that:

"Despite an initial, promising pledge by Richard Branson that Virgin would not partner with organisations that continue to take whales and dolphins from the ocean, WDC feels that the final statement falls a long way short.

"Despite the fact that Virgin seems to be stating that taking whales and dolphins from wild and putting them in tanks is not a good idea, they fail to condemn the general practise of keeping dolphins in confinement for entertainment purposes - a practice that poses serious welfare concerns but also perpetuates the capture and trade in dolphins worldwide."

Sir Richard Branson's pledge could help reduce the captures of cetaceans in the wild - but it's not enough, and whether Sir Richard Branson's pledge can stop the growing demand for wild cetaceans remains to be seen.

Orcas and other cetaceans suffer in tanks

After reading Dr. Rose's paper, I wanted to learn more about SeaWorld, and what happens behind the scenes.

Having looked through Orcahome's list of captive orcas deceased and alive, I realised that only 5 out of 79 orcas held at SeaWorld's over 50 years have so far managed to reach an average age of 30-50 years.

Statistics published by WDC show that 92% of orcas at SeaWorld so far have died before reaching the age of 26. In the wild, male orcas live an average of 30 years with a maximum of 50-60 years and females live an average of 46 years with a maximum of 80-90 years.

It's not just orcas who suffer from being confined. Other cetaceans, such as bottlenose dolphins, belugas, and pilot whales suffer from being confined as well. While these animals do not get physically maltreated by staff, many cetaceans suffer from anxiety, stress and depression in captivity.

Many cetaceans also display stereotypical behaviour which is repetitive, abnormal behaviour that does not occur in the wild such as motionlessly head-lifting out of the water, swimming in circles, and chewing on the walls and gates which damages their teeth and can lead to fatal infections.

The writing is on the wall

But for the captive cetacean industry, it's still business as usual. SeaWorld also announced earlier this year that they will open a new park in Asia. Since their announcement, Orca captures in Russia have increased, with the newest capture quota allowing 10 orcas to be captured in just one year.

Some businesses still adhere to the idea that the movement against holding cetaceans captive will soon run out of steam, and that it's just a temporary boom sparked by the movie Blackfish.

They are wrong. I have met many people who are passionate about this debate and not a single one of them is about to stop campaigning for their goal - to create a world where no cetacean suffers from being confined for entertainment purposes.

It's only a matter of time before this cruel and unethical industry is looked on with universal distaste, and ultimately closed down. And until we reach that day, we battle on.



Kathleen Haase is a Philosophy graduate from the University of York. She is currently volunteering at Whale and Dolphin Conservation writing articles on 'non-human personhood'.

Petition: British Airways - Stop selling trips to SeaWorld. End your support for these cruel orca circuses!

Facebook Group: 'British Airways - Stop Supporting SeaWorld!'


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