Amidst Backlash, British Airways Stays By SeaWorld

Originally published on Cetacean News Network

British Airways disappoints the 257,000 plus signatures of an online petition by continuing their partnership with SeaWorld

First, the petition reached 100,000 signatures prompting the first response from British Airways. Whale and Dolphin Conservation (WDC) supporter Kathleen Haase called on British Airways to stop selling trips to SeaWorld now has over 100,000 signatures and has prompted the following response from British Airways:

In common with many airlines and travel companies in the UK, we offer services intended to make the booking of holiday experiences more convenient for members of the public who wish to visit SeaWorld attractions.
We offer similar arrangements in regard to theme parks and other places of interest at many destinations on our global network. Whether members of the public choose to make use of these arrangements is entirely up to them.
We note the concerns you have raised in relations to animal welfare. We feel sure you will be aware that regulation of animal welfare at SeaWorld is a matter for the relevant federal and state authorities in the US.
We have no reason not to have confidence in the expertise of these authorities in what is a highly specialised field far removed from the world of aviation."

Unfortunately, by booking through a trusted company like British Airways and without the necessary information to make an informed decision, many holidaymakers will continue to patronize SeaWorld and other facilities holding whales and dolphins in captivity.

Increasing numbers of holidaymakers are informed about the issues, though. A recent UK survey found 86 percent of tourists would not wish to visit facilities holding captive whales and dolphins as part of their holiday. U.S. opinion is also turning against orca captivity.

Furthermore, U.S. animal welfare legislation for marine mammals in captivity is woefully out of date and provides very little protection for captive whales and dolphins held in SeaWorld and other facilities. It also falls way behind standards in other countries such as Brazil (where there are no captive whales and dolphins) and Italy. WDC welcomes the recent passing of an amendment in Congress which will finally force authorities to update this legislation.

Unfortunately for BA, in this age of corporate responsibility, which has resulted in ABTA guidance on animal tourism and Virgin examining its relationship with facilities holding captive whales and dolphins, it can no longer hide behind its expertise in aviation.

If you haven't already, please consider posting a polite message of concern on British Airaways's Facebook page. Thousands of others have!

Breakthrough moment: Haase meets British Airways

The WDC together with the petitioner Kathleen Haase meets with British Airaways. According to WDC:

"We welcomed the chance to meet and British Airways' acknowledgement of public concern on the issue of whale and dolphin captivity. British Airways is keen to fully understand the welfare risks posed to orcas and other whales and dolphins held in captivity and has a number of other meetings lined up to further explore this, including with SeaWorld. We look forward to a positive outcome from those meetings and continued dialogue in the hope of deciding progressive action on these important issues of whale and dolphin welfare and public concern." The response by a British Airlines representative regarding the petition this morning was as expected, with a couple of Seaworld lies parroted for the public. The

Jonathon Counsell, British Airways' head of environment had this update the following month on November 24:

We have actively sought the views of and evidence from a range of people and organisations including the leading NGOs in this field on the issue of cetaceans in captivity. We welcome the extensive work undertaken by ABTA in publishing best practice guidance for the welfare of animals in tourism, particularly in countries where laws do not govern animal welfare. SeaWorld has assured us that its animal care standards exceed this best practice guidance and are governed by US federal and state laws alongside accreditation standards set by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums as well as the Association of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums. Further, SeaWorld does not collect cetaceans from the wild and has not done so for nearly three decades. On this basis we currently see no reason to end our relationship with the organisation. We will continue to offer our customers the option to make their own decisions on whether to visit SeaWorld. We recognise that the science of cetacean welfare is evolving and we encourage further study in this area.

The petitioner Kathleen Haase wrote an open letter to British Airways in response to their decision:

"Dear Mr. Counsell,

Thank you for forwarding your position in regards to SeaWorld to me and the 257,191 supporters who wish for BA to sever their ties with SeaWorld.

We asked you twice for a follow up meeting in regards to your position and it seems to me that you entirely ignored these requests when, at the end of the meeting in October, you had stated that you were open to the idea and are willing to "continue the dialogue."

You state in your letter that "SeaWorld has assured us that its animal care standards exceed this best practice guidance" of ABTA which is entirely incorrect. During our meeting, I had handed you a summary of at least 13 violations to these guidelines, such as having pregnant orcas perform up to the end of their gestation period, separating orcas when that is not strictly necessary, such as orcas being separated randomly or for breeding purposes, too loud music being played in SeaWorld's facilities, the environment not being enriching and orcas being asked to slide out for other than medical procedures amongst many other violations.

In regards to SeaWorld being governed by federal laws and being accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums and the Association of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums, I fail to follow your thoughts as to why this is of interest in regards to the suffering orcas endure in captivity on a daily basis. If anything, this is an indication that the current guidelines and laws are insufficient when a facility as accredited as SeaWorld for its high standards cannot prevent orcas from dying prematurely, calves being rejected by their mothers as well as trainers and other orcas dying from aggressive attacks between one another in the 50 years they have been operating.

Finally, you claim that "SeaWorld does not collect cetaceans from the wild and has not done so for nearly three decades" which is not entirely true. They acquired an orphaned orca called Morgan who was taken into captivity under a rescue permit in the Netherlands in 2010. Once Morgan was rehabilitated and brought back to health, she was meant to be released but instead she was sent to Loro Parque, a park in the Canary Islands that is affiliated with SeaWorld and houses some of their captive born orcas on a breeding loan. Morgan is now listed as SeaWorld's "asset".

Furthermore, SeaWorld is named as a potential recipient of up to 12 wild-caught belugas from Russia in an application by the Georgia Aquarium that was denied by the US government but is being appealed by the aquarium. Moreover, not capturing cetaceans from the wild does not alleviate the suffering of the ones already in captivity.

Additionally, you had asked for "indisputable science" in regards to orcas's suffering in captivity in order to decide your position which, as we informed you, is forthcoming with a peer-reviewed scientific paper on annual survivorship rates. When asked for clarification what you consider indisputable science, you had mentioned scientific papers on why elephants should not be held in captivity. As elephants and orcas have a lot in common, I asked for references to such papers which you have never provided.

It seems to me that you decided to dismiss the forthcoming scientific evidence on annual survivorship rates of orcas and I cannot comprehend the reasons for doing so other than that your position had always been to judge this matter in favour of SeaWorld.

For these reasons I cannot understand nor accept British Airways' position in regards to SeaWorld and am compelled to continue with this campaign until positive change will be achieved.

Kind regards,
Kathleen Haase

It seems British Airways will soon feel the wrath of being Blackfished for their support of SeaWorld. Make your outrage known directly to those making the decisions.