SeaWorld has hit back after Virgin Holidays said it had stopped selling tickets to the US theme park chain’s captive whale and dolphin experiences.
SeaWorld said it was “disappointing to see Virgin Holidays succumb to pressure from animal activists”.
It said the activists were people “who mislead and manipulate marine mammal science to advance their agendas”.
“No company does more to protect marine mammals and advance cetacean research, rescue and conservation,” it added.
SeaWorld’s statement came a day after Virgin Holidays said it was removing the attractions from its line-up.
In a blog, Virgin boss Richard Branson said the firm would “end the sales and promotion of tourism attractions that involve captive cetaceans, such as whales and dolphins.”
Thomas Cook made a similar move a year ago amid concerns about animal welfare.
Animal rights activists say keeping cetaceans in captivity restricts their movement and can lead to aggressive behaviour, illness and even death.
- Virgin drops trips to SeaWorld amid welfare worries
- Thomas Cook axes trips to SeaWorld over animal welfare concerns
Virgin said it had been working towards its goal since 2014 when it sold tickets to about 20 captive whale and dolphin experiences.
The firm, which sells tickets to various attractions as part of its holiday packages, said the final destinations to be axed were:
- SeaWorld, San Diego
- SeaWorld, Orlando
- Discovery Cove, Orlando
- Atlantis, The Palm, Dubai
- Atlantis Paradise Island, Bahamas.
However, it said it would still sell tickets to the hotels at the Atlantis resorts.
In its response, SeaWorld said: “Virgin’s own corporate mission is having a measurable purpose that positively impacts communities and the environment. SeaWorld is the epitome of that mission.
“With more than 35,000 animal rescues and decades of meaningful scientific contributions, we are proud to be a recognised global leader in marine mammal science, education and, in particular, providing preeminent care to all of our marine mammals.
“With rising threats to our oceans and their inhabitants, supporting independently accredited zoological facilities is more important than ever. No company does more to protect marine mammals and advance cetacean research, rescue and conservation than SeaWorld.”