Recently, Thomas Cook, a travel agency that is based in the United Kingdom, recently announced that it would no longer include marine mammal facilities that house orcas. The decision was likely influenced by animal rights extremists who target any zoo or aquarium that houses cetaceans. However, aside from the fact that it was an animal rights influence that made the company say “adios” to anything SeaWorld or Loro Parque, it’s the fact that Thomas Cook does have some ties to a facility based in China that houses cetaceans that were collected from waters off of Taiji, Japan.
Like SeaWorld and Loro Parque, many Western modern zoos and aquariums have already opposed the 422-year-old drive fishery hunts in Japan long before the 2009 film The Cove was even released in theaters. This particular film has since made an industry out of animal rights activism where basically any wildlife issue, in the eyes of activist groups, is seen more as a money-making scheme rather an actual noble cause. Some groups like the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) and the World Association of Zoos and Aquariums (WAZA) have found some great success against Japan’s drive fisheries. Many of these efforts were done through simply educating the public about dolphins, their marine habitats, and the threats that they face out in the wild.
As it turned out, while Thomas Cook has dropped several zoos and aquariums that are either part of the AZA or WAZA, they are part of a company from China that seems to have no issue in taking animals from the drive fisheries. In fact, the China-based Fosun owns around 51 percent of the Thomas Cook company in China. In addition, Fosun is also the parent owner of Atlantis Sanya, which, by the way, just happens to be located in Hainan, China. Hainan has been regarded to be the country’s version of Hawaii, just like how Shanghai is regarded as its own version of Manhattan. This facility in question is home to ten dolphins that were collected from waters of Japan via the drive fisheries. This makes Thomas Cook connected to the hunts despite having dropped marine mammal facilities that don’t even house Japanese dolphins in the first place. So it’s almost hypocritical for Thomas Cook UK to say that they are dropping marine mammal facilities from travel packages because of “animal welfare” issues when they have ties to a Chinese facility that collects dolphins from a drive fishery.
On the other hand, it does in fact appear that Thomas Cook does really seem to understand the global impact that both SeaWorld and Loro Parque have when it comes to their commitment to preserving wildlife and what is left of the very few wild places that exist on Earth. For example, for the last five decades alone, SeaWorld has rescued, rehabilitated, and released over 31,000 animals through its own conservation program, which includes animals like bottlenose dolphins, sea turtles, pilot whales, manatees, seals, sea otters, sea lions, and even a grey whale. In addition, they have even contributed $14 million in conservation programs and projects through the SeaWorld and Busch Gardens Conservation Fund. Meanwhile, Loro Parque, which is based in Spain, recently launched a four-study with the Canary Islands government to study how climate change is effecting the marine ecosystem. In addition, they have also contributed to the study of bioacoustics and detection of killer whale vocalizations in order to improve surveys done on wild killer populations to ensure their protection in the future. While I don’t know much about conservation or animal welfare laws in China and other Asian countries, I can only imagine that they might not be the same as the ones in the United States or the European Union, which can explain why there are these traveling dolphin shows and poorly managed facilities that don’t make as much money as a modern facility does in those countries. It can also explain why some of these Asian countries can import dolphins from Japan, as well.
What SeaWorld and Loro Parque both have in common is the fact that they are both 100 percent committed to providing their animals the best care at any zoo or aquarium through routine husbandry, training, and enrichment sessions that are all aimed at ensuring the animals stay healthy and active throughout the day. It’s actually even stated that both facilities do meet the strict requirements that are needed for them to meet the minimum standards for good animal welfare by a number of groups that look into facilities that house animals. This includes all scientifically accredited zoos and aquariums.
In the end, what Thomas Cook did was just not only hypocritical, but also calls its business ethics into question by dropping scientifically accredited facilities from tourism packages while having no problem with Chinese facilities that obtain dolphins from an inhumane practice that dates back to the 17th century.