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Thomas Cook: Goodbye orcas, hello belugas?


Following on from the announcement that Thomas Cook would finally be dropping ticket sales to orca shows, an informative blog was published. The blog reveals that Thomas Cook may be dropping the SeaWorld orca market only to move to China to promote and profit from the dolphinarium industry over there. The market in China not only exploits dolphins, but also exploits beluga whales and orcas too.

Since this blog was published, Dolphin Freedom has been inundated with messages from concerned customers asking if it is true. The blog implies Thomas Cook is literally swapping one dolphinarium market with another. As Dolphin Freedom has been scrutinizing Thomas Cook’s involvement in the marine captivity industry since 2016 we immediately looked into this information and the team has spent the whole day investigating this claim. We are going to share with you what we have found to be true and as you know we only publish information we can validate with evidence.

This is what we have found. Thomas Cook have now moved into a new up-and-coming tourist hotspot named Sanya which is a city in China within the Hainan province.

Sanya has sandy beaches and a great climate. Sanya is also trying to open up its markets to not only Chinese tourism but also European tourism.

An important new share holder of Thomas Cook is a Chinese company known as Fosun International Ltd. Fosun also create holidays. Fosun has bought a significant 11% of shares in Thomas Cook. Thomas Cook and Fosun have created a business partnership to promote and develop tourism in Sanya. The duo believe there is great potential in Hainan and the city of Sanya and plan to market the new holiday area to European tourists.

Fosun has also recently built a mega hotel complex called Sanya Atlantis. Inside the hotel complex is a dolphinarium which holds:

  • 6 Bottlenose dolphins

  • 4 Pacific White Sided dolphins

  • Sea Lions

  • And somewhere in the hotel premises are 2 beluga whales held for display who were captured in Russia.


On Thomas Cook’s website, CEO of Thomas Cook, Peter Fankhauser and CEO of dolphinarium owner Fosun applaud their partnership in developing the area of Sanya and the newly opened dolphinarium hotel Sanya Atlantis.

Thomas Cook is now also selling trips to this dolphinarium hotel on their website. Dolphin Freedom believe this is a very tangible admission by Thomas Cook to show that they are supporting the new marine park industry in China and the confinement of beluga whales.

However, Dolphin Freedom has written to Victoria Barlow, Environmental Manager of Thomas Cook today, asking them to confirm their promotion of beluga captivity and a new dolphinarium market in China. Ms Barlow replied to us immediately to let us know she was investigating this question and would let us know. It is well documented that the marine captivity industry is notorious for a lack of transparency so we very much welcome Thomas Cook’s correspondence and look forward to their reply.

BACKGROUND In February this year Dolphin Freedom wrote to Thomas Cook asking them to adopt the very progressive move Virgin signed up to in which they committed not to working with any new captive marine markets which open.

Dolphin Freedom had direct dialogue with Thomas Cook’s head of sustainability, David Ville. During this exchange David Ville told Dolphin Freedom volunteers in person that Thomas Cook would be following Virgin’s example and would not be working with any new traditional markets which open. David Ville repeatedly stated they would only be working with seaside sanctuaries alongside the charity WDC.

They also sent us a “preview” of a blog they planned to publish which confirmed this commitment. Shortly after this exchange Thomas Cook published their blog. It did not mention information regarding withdrawing from new markets nor did it contain the previous commitment they had emailed to us in writing.

When questioned upon why they had misinformed us regarding their blog and why they were not making public their commitment to not start new contracts with dolphinariums David Ville stated: “We are still certainly committed to not opening new “traditional” cetacean attractions and are committed to a sustainable transition. This specific commitment was removed (from blog) for the continuing concern that our wish to support sanctuaries and wild viewing in the future may be misinterpreted by some groups or campaigners as going back on our promises. There is on-going debate about how open we can be on this point without exposing us to reputational risk”.

The dolphinarium in Sanya Atlantis is anything but a sanctuary. The conditions are appaling. The tanks are concrete and small. The beluga whales were brutally captured in Russia and imported by Thomas Cook’s partner and shareholder Fosun. It completely fails all UK national standards. China has very little animal welfare regulation concerning marine captivity and marine experts have likened the conditions in China to that of the 60’s in Europe.

If Thomas Cook confirms that it is promoting and selling tickets to its partner Fosun’s dolphinarium in Sanya then this means that Thomas Cook’s recent statements on taking animal welfare seriously are untrue.

It also means, David Ville, head of sustainability, told us they would not be starting contracts with new dolphinaria. He either did not have a clue about this massive new Thomas Cook business venture or he lied.

Which is it? We await Thomas Cook’s reply and will update you ASAP.

UPDATE – AUGUST 7TH 2018 Press articles in response to our campaign.


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