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Richard Branson Says Dolphin Captivity Should Be Thing of the Past

| Laura Bridgeman
Topics: Captivity Industry, Sanctuaries

More and more people are publicly condemning dolphin captivity  - and this goes far beyond activists.

Increasingly, people who have an active stake in cetacean captivity are coming to realize what others have been saying for decades: that keeping dolphins and whales captivity is cruel, outdated, and ethically indefensible.

Richard Branson, the billionaire mogul behind Virgin Airlines and other ventures, has been slowly, but perhaps surely, coming around. Four years ago, Branson made the commitment not to support dolphin facilities that source dolphins from the wild - including places like the dolphin-killing cove in Taiji. Now, he’s actively supporting - to the tune of $300,000 so far - the creation of seaside sanctuaries, places where captive cetaceans are allowed a respite from the demands of captivity and performing daily for tourists.

On April 18, 2018, Branson tweeted: “To my grandchildren, the idea of dolphins jumping through hoops will seem bizarre, a relic of the past, and that’s the way it should be.”

Branson is not alone in voicing these sentiments. John Racanelli, CEO and President, Baltimore Aquarium, decided years ago to permanently retire their captive dolphins and build North America’s first dolphin sanctuary.  On January 25, 2018, he said the following in an interview:

“We need to get out of that awful era that we have been through for the last 100 years of caging animals…[The ocean] has been their habitat for probably — actually, probably millions of years, ever since Florida was a giant coral reef. So, the idea of the dolphins finding a home in a place where dolphins have always made a home is a really good one. And it is a big driver for us to want to do this here.

Not everyone who makes these kinds of statements is happy about it, however. John Nightengale, CEO Vancouver Aquarium, had to (perhaps begrudgingly) announce the shutting down of the facilities’ cetacean captivity program. On January 18, 2018, he put the blame on people speaking out against this type of entertainment, saying: "What used to be a distraction had become a more serious impediment to us achieving our mission. It's time."

He noted that the public pressure was sufficiently bad enough that “ also have to be realistic, and it has gotten to the point where the debate in the community, with the lawyers, with the politicians ... is debilitating our work on our mission."

These sentiments are nothing new, of course. Decades ago, Craig McCaw, another billionaire who donated millions of dollars towards the Keiko release effort, gave extensive interviews outlining his reasons for not wishing to see orcas in captivity, and the importance of freeing Keiko and others like him. He believed that humans ought to “try to rise to a higher level in the belief that we should not take from others to establish our own pleasure or rewards.”

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