TripAdvisor to ban sales of tickets to dolphin, whale attractions

PHOTO: In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, an endangered southern resident female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound, west of Seattle.PlayElaine Thompson/AP, File
WATCH Last killer whale born into captivity at SeaWorld has died

TripAdvisor, one of the world’s most popular travel sites, said it will stop selling tickets to attractions that "contribute to the captivity" of whales, dolphins and porpoises.

The policy, announced Wednesday, will ban ticket sales to tourist attractions and aquariums like SeaWorld, which has been targeted by animal rights groups over its treatment of killer whales.

"Whales and dolphins do not thrive in limited captive environments, and we hope to see a future where they live as they should -- free and in the wild," Dermot Halpin, president of TripAdvisor’s experiences and rentals, said in a statement Wednesday. "We believe the current generation of whales and dolphins in captivity should be the last, and we look forward to seeing this position adopted more widely throughout the travel industry."

The ban applies to any commercial facility that breeds or imports cetaceans -- whales, dolphins or porpoises -- for public display.

The policy is an extension of the company's 2016 animal welfare initiative, which prohibits ticket sales to destinations where travelers come into physical contact with captive wild animals, effectively banning events that allow elephant rides or tiger petting experiences. The company also halted ticket sales to "demeaning animal shows and performances" in 2018.

PHOTO: In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, an endangered southern resident female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound, west of Seattle. Elaine Thompson/AP, File
In this Jan. 18, 2014, file photo, an endangered southern resident female orca leaps from the water while breaching in Puget Sound, west of Seattle.

"Our aim is not only to prevent future generations of whales and dolphins from being raised in captivity, but also to encourage the industry to move towards alternative models, like seaside sanctuaries, that will better provide for the needs of the current captive population," Halpin said Wednesday. "Seaside sanctuaries have enormous potential, but they need more backing from the tourism industry. ... We hope our announcement today can help turn the tide."

Animal conservation and protection groups, including World Animal Protection and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, applauded the decision, but critics said the move ignores the needs and preferences of the general public.

SeaWorld, which stopped breeding orcas in 2016 amid falling ticket sales and a wave of animal rights protests, released a statement Wednesday night, slamming the new TripAdvisor policy.

"We are disappointed by TripAdvisor’s new position that ignores the educational value and conservation mission of professionally accredited zoos and aquariums. SeaWorld believes deeply in the mission of these organizations," Chris Dold, SeaWorld’s chief zoological officer, said. "SeaWorld maintains the highest standards of care for all animals, including cetaceans. And regardless of TripAdvisor’s position, SeaWorld will continue to advance education and animal conservation efforts."

Similarly, Dan Ashe, president of the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, said TripAdvisor was putting "extreme opinions ahead of informed customers."

"TripAdvisor is letting voices of a radical minority dictate corporate policy, rather than listening to the voices and preferences of their customers," Ashe said in a statement Wednesday. "TripAdvisor should give its customers good information and trust them to make well-informed decisions."

TripAdvisor -- which serves an average of about 490 million travelers a month, according to its website -- said the new policy will go into full effect by the end of the year.