Swimming with dolphins: Thousands call on TUI to stop selling ‘cruel’ trips

Two dolphins perform at Sea Life Park in Waimanalo, Hawaii, in 2017.
Two dolphins perform at Sea Life Park in Waimanalo, Hawaii, in 2017.   -   Copyright  AP Photo/Caleb Jones
By Lottie Limb

More than 60,000 people have signed a petition calling on travel company TUI to stop promoting captive dolphin experiences on its holidays.

The campaign led by World Animal Protection to end the “cruel” practice got a publicity boost today from a video stunt in the UK by BAFTA award-winning writer and actor Jolyon Rubinstein.

A once popular element of many family holidays, ‘swimming with dolphins’ experiences are increasingly frowned on. Booking.com, British Airways Holidays, Expedia Group, Tripadvisor and Virgin Holidays have all cut ties with the industry in recent years, and campaigners are putting pressure on TUI to do the same.

"Dolphins at TUI venues are made to perform in shows, interact with tourists and live in cruel and unnatural conditions for the sake of huge profits,” says Katheryn Wise, campaigns manager at World Animal Protection.

“We are calling for TUI Group and other travel companies to end the sale and promotion of venues abroad that use dolphins for entertainment - an archaic attraction that ended in the UK in 1993 due to our strict animal welfare requirements for whales and dolphins in captivity.”

Is swimming with dolphins unethical?

With his characteristic brand of bravado, honed making the satirical BBC show ‘The Revolution Will Be Televised’, Rubinstein entered a TUI travel agent pretending to be from head office.

“TUI Group have basically made the decision that we’re going to reward our customers by giving away some free holidays to 25 dolphin experience venues, where you can still see 400 dolphins in their natural habitat, in captivity,” he tells a bewildered employee.

Meanwhile the high street store’s exterior was given an ‘honest rebrand’ according to World Animal Protection. The video shows the TUI smile logo flipped upside down to depict an unhappy dolphin - contrary to the company’s ‘Live Happy’ tagline.

“I was really shocked,” Rubinstein says of his decision to get involved when contacted by the animal rights charity. “I thought it was impossible that in 2022, in Britain, you could even sell holidays to go to see dolphins in captivity, but you can.

“TUI has been asked by World Animal Protection to stop the practice but that hasn't worked. Which is why we decided to do the stunt.”

Dolphins are highly intelligent, and enjoy a rich social life in the wild, communicating through an array of clicks, whistles and squeals, and travelling up to 100 kilometres a day in the open ocean.

Concrete tanks provide a far impoverished existence, according to animal rights groups, which claim that the anxiety and stress of captivity can cause the cetaceans to self-mutilate and become aggressive.

TUI sells a number of holiday packages that include swimming with dolphin excursions, such as a trip to Punta Cana in the Dominican Republic, which offers holidaymakers a visit to the Dolphin Explorer Park.

The petition claims that the tour operator sells tickets to at least 22 dolphin venues in total, and is profiting from the captivity of over 350 dolphins.

TUI has been contacted for comment.