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Finnish travel firms consider ban on parks with captive orca

News that British package holiday firm Thomas Cook has banned trips to theme parks with captive orcas is causing Finnish travel firms to rethink their policies.

Miekkavalaan esitys Floridalaisessa vesipuistossa.
An orca at Florida's SeaWorld Image: Brock Miller / AOP

Finnish holiday companies such as Aurinkomatkat (Suntours), Apollomatkat (Apollo Travels) and TUI Finland are mulling whether they should join in a decision by one company in Britain to ban destinations with animal theme parks that feature captive orcas as entertainment.

Thomas Cook Group, a British-owned travel group, announced on July 29 that it would be stopping trips and ticket sales to several destinations in 2019.

"Today we are announcing a new addition to our animal welfare policy […]. From next summer, we will no longer sell any animal attractions that keep orcas in captivity," said CEO Peter Fankhauser.

This means that the company will no longer be giving business to Florida's SeaWorld animal theme park and the Loro Parque zoo on the Canary Island of Tenerife, for example.

The Thomas Cook Group decision will also apply to Tjäreborg, a Finnish holiday firm owned by the group.

Tjäreborg's communications director Aura Soininen says that Florida's SeaWorld was never a part of Thomas Cook's northern European trip selection, but the Loro Parque park has been.

Soininen says Tjäreborg has facilitated relatively few tickets to Loro Parque for Finnish travellers in relation to how many travel to Tenerife. She says the travel guides do not promote the zoo, but if travellers ask about tickets, the guide will explain the options for procuring them.

Thomas Cook's decision does not apply to dolphins, but it says it is "also continuing its work to improve the conditions on behalf of dolphins and other animals".

A history of captive dolphins in Tampere

Finland has a history of dolphin captivity, culminating in a covert transfer of four dolphins to Attica Zoological Park in Greece in 2016, after Tampere's Särkäniemi amusement park decided to shut down its dolphinarium a year earlier. The transfer was criticized because sources revealed that the animals would still be required to participate in "educational demonstrations" in their new home.

Finnish travel company Aurinkomatkat currently sells tickets to several theme parks and aquariums with orca.

"The issue is up for consideration. We'll see in this upcoming winter season what we will decide to do," says Aurinkomatka's communications consultant Annina Metsola.

Metsola says her company has already made the decision to stop doing business with an orca destination in the Dominican Republic, but says "decisions like this can't be made rashly".

Competitor Apollomatkat's sales director Kimmo Rasimus says it has stopped trips to ride elephants and swim with dolphins, after the company entered into a cooperative agreement with the World Animal Protection organization.

"There are aquariums in the world where the creatures in the water have a good life, but we think that those with larger dolphins and orcas are not in line with our policy of sustainable development," he says.

TUI Finland responded to a request for an interview with a press release saying the company is working towards improving the wellbeing of animals. The release said it would not be available for an interview until after the company releases its mid-term financial result, on August 6.

A visit to TUI's website shows that it sells tickets to Loro Parque in Tenerife and offers customers the possibility to swim with dolphins or train them for a day in Mexico. In Phuket, Thailand, TUI sells trips to the Seaside Retreat, where it is possible to bathe and feed elephants.

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