ABTA’s work on animal welfare and dolphins

The welfare of animals in tourism has been a huge priority for our work over the last decade.

The standards and practices at animal attractions across the globe vary enormously, which is why we have been working with a range of stakeholders including animal welfare experts, to provide industry guidance to drive improvements in animals’ living conditions and treatment. 

The guidelines are grounded in evidence and cover a range of animal welfare issues and activities. They are produced by working with a wide range of stakeholders including industry experts, scientists, zoologist organisations, and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) from around the world to reach a consensus on the content of the guidelines.

Our work focuses on animal welfare, as opposed to ethics and opinions on animal rights. We know there is a wide range of opinions and attitudes on the ethics of various types of activities and venues. Our role, where we know we can help travel companies have the most impact, is to share guidance which is based on evidence and has consensus among experts in this area.

ABTA’s guidelines are voluntary and it is for travel businesses and suppliers to use the guidelines to drive up standards at attractions and to inform their own animal welfare policies, including their commercial decisions on the activities they do and don’t sell.

Specific guidance on dolphins

Our guidance is underpinned by an overview manual which sets out basic animal welfare requirements, including providing appropriate food, veterinary care and any enclosures should support normal and diverse behaviour. The guidance also outlines unacceptable practices such as tourists holding or having a photo with wild animals where the animal does not have the choice to end the interaction or move away. It also includes performances or tourist interactions where training involves punishment or food deprivation, causes the animal fear, injury or distress, or the tasks are not based on normal behaviour.

These apply to all types of animal activities, including dolphins in captivity.

We also have supporting manuals for specific animals or types of attractions. However, following a review of our animal welfare guidelines in 2019, we took the decision to withdraw our supporting manual on dolphins, which was originally published in 2013.

We withdrew the dolphin manual because opinion was split on what the evidence says about being able to manage the welfare needs of dolphins in captivity.

We want to be able to offer Members and suppliers the most up to date evidence and insight on dolphins in captivity. Providing a manual which no longer reflects the breadth of current thinking does not do that.

Instead, we are signposting Members to a range of existing evidence and arguments. Members can use this information, as they did the guidelines, to inform their own decision making about what attractions they choose to sell and how they engage with their suppliers.

These are the sources of evidence and arguments we are currently directing Members to on dolphins in captivity:

NGO concerns regarding cetacea in captivity are set out in The Case Against Marine Mammals in Captivity (CAMMIC) report, A vision for whales and dolphins in tourism, and Behind the smile, which argue that it is not possible to fully meet welfare requirements for cetaceans in captivity.

Bodies such as the European Association of Zoos and Aquaria (EAZA)European Association for Aquatic Mammals (EAAM) and Alliance of Marine Mammal Parks and Aquariums (AMMPA) work with marine parks, zoos and aquaria to evaluate and audit them against welfare criteria. AMMPA responds to some of the claims that have been made about zoos and aquariums here.

We continue to engage with Members and stakeholders on the important issue of dolphins in captivity, updating this information as and when new material comes to light.