AZA News Releases

AZA Statement on Virgin Travel’s New Animal Encounter Booking Policy

SILVER SPRING, Md. – Virgin Holidays, a United Kingdom-based travel company, today announced a policy to stop selling tickets to attractions that care for dolphins and whales. Two facilities accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) – SeaWorld and Dolphin Discovery – have been told by Virgin Holidays they will no longer do business with them. In Virgin Holidays announcement, they specifically named SeaWorld and Discovery Cove. SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment and Dolphin Discovery have seven facilities accredited by AZA between them.

In response to Virgin Holidays’ announcement, Dan Ashe, President and CEO of AZA, issued the following statement:

The Association of Zoos and Aquariums is very disappointed Sir Richard Branson and Virgin Holidays singled out AZA-accredited members in their announcement. AZA’s accreditation standards are regarded as the “gold standard” among zoological facilities, and include specific standards related to dolphins and whales.

The quality of care provided by AZA member facilities is affirmed through our rigorous accreditation process, which assures the well-being of the animals in their care always comes first based on the highest levels of scientific evidence and data. That means assuring each animal’s health, welfare, and safety is the top priority of any program offered to guests. We are also proud that each of our member facilities has earned recognition for excellence as a result of rigorous and comprehensive program assessment, including strict animal care, education, and conservation guidelines.

AZA stands behind every animal encounter program offered by its members. Professionally designed and monitored animal ambassador and encounter programs, including “swim with” programs with dolphins and whales, have proven educational benefits and inspire guests to respect animals and support their conservation. Each year, the many animal encounter programs allow millions of children and families to experience and connect with animals and ecosystems they would likely never otherwise have the opportunity to see. Ending these opportunities would mean that only the economically elite have the opportunity to encounter and be inspired by these amazing animals.

We call on Sir Richard and Virgin Holidays to reconsider their position, and we offer to work with him and others to identify the standards necessary to assure that whales and dolphins, and all animals in human care, receive the exceptional care that they deserve.

You can learn more about AZA’s accreditation standards at its website:


About AZA

Founded in 1924, the Association of Zoos and Aquariums is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the advancement of zoos and aquariums in the areas of conservation, animal welfare, education, science, and recreation. AZA is the accrediting body for the top zoos and aquariums in the United States and ten other countries. Look for the AZA accreditation logo whenever you visit a zoo or aquarium as your assurance that you are supporting a facility dedicated to providing excellent care for animals, a great experience for you, and a better future for all living things. The AZA is a leader in saving species and your link to helping animals all over the world. To learn more, visit

Posted by Ashley Jones at 08:00
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