Behind The Green

With Katheryn Wise | World Animal Protection

Behind The Green

With Katheryn Wise | World Animal Protection

With misinformation and greenwashing rife in tourism, Behind The Green takes it back to BASICS. Back to storytelling and human connection. Hear from the visionaries and teams behind the world’s leading sustainable stays. As well as inspiring experts that help us to REIMAGINE, RESET, and REINVENT tourism.

Written by Rebecca Woolford

Can the ‘unacceptable’ become the ‘acceptable’ when we leave our front door for our holidays?

Scientists once shared that travel can lead to a lowering of inhibitions in people. Most commonly linked to an increase in the number of beverages one might typically drink at home.

But can travelling to another country alter our conscience and moral compass? Can it cause a temporary blurring of the lines between right and wrong? The paradox below prompted me to ask such questions…

Spain is the UK’s number one holiday destination. It also remains Europe’s largest dolphin prison.

World Animal Protection In Action

In March this year, the UK celebrated 30 years FREE of captive dolphins and whales. After the UK closed its doors to the last dolphin marine park over 30 years ago, one would hope other countries might follow suit. The good news is most did. And not just entire countries like Greece and Croatia, but large brands like Virgin Holidays.

It’s important to note that this change in the UK came about not because of changes in the law (this is an ongoing fight), but because they fell out of favour with the general public. In addition, parks were not able to meet the higher standards required by UK animal welfare law.

Spain, however, didn’t follow the trend. It is not only the largest dolphin prison in Europe, it’s the sixth in the world, behind countries like China or Russia.

So, I invited World Animal Protection to the series to learn more and to find out what we can all do.

With over a decade of experience in the education wildlife sector, Katheryn (see below) is an experienced and knowledgeable animal wildlife expert. Currently she is a campaign manager for World Animal Protection, a global non-profit animal rights organisation that works in over 50 countries and influences decision-makers and sparks bold change in the status quo.

Enjoy the interview!

It’s great to have you here Katheryn, thank you for taking the time, and welcome. I’m really looking forward to this because it’s an area I’m really passionate about. So, let’s jump straight in. Animal welfare in tourism is the area you focus on with your work, can you share with us the kind of entertainment you’re working against and why it’s important?

“At World Animal Protection we believe wild animals deserve the right to a WILD life. So we’re working in the tourism sector to put a stop to any tourism activities that are exploitative to wild animals.

So, that would be like dolphin or orca shows for example where incredibly intelligent wild animals are reduced to circus performers. Not only Elephant rides, but also washing and bathing elephants as well which has a very similar training method to riding elephants – so it’s just as problematic.

Selfies are another big issue with people going on holiday and having photos with wild tigers, lion cubs, and sloths. People most often take part in these activities because they love animals, but it’s about people understanding the impacts they’re having on those animals because even with the best intentions, what’s often missed is what’s happening to that wild animal once you’ve left that venue.

So, my work is across educating the public, spreading awareness of some of the issues that go on behind the scenes that they might not be aware of, and then speaking to governments and travel companies too: Working alongside governments to put laws in place to prevent some of these activities from being available, and with large travel companies that have a responsibility and continue to profit from this cruelty.” Katheryn Wise

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An orca in an empty park. Source: World Animal Protection

One of the things you mentioned there, Kathy, was selfies. I read in a recent report that the number of selfies shared on social media posing with wildlife is increasing. So, are we moving in the wrong direction?

“Yes, I think social media, for all the good that it can do, can be a real driver of the exploitation of animals. And the trouble is people see other people having selfies, also famous people, influential people having selfies with wild animals, and then they want to do the same.

We did some work a few years ago with Instagram. It was a good start with good intentions but recent research has shown it isn’t enough and social media platforms need to do more. It’s also about raising awareness for the people who are sharing these selfies. The number of times we get pictures from footballers, famous people, walking with a lion, or holding a tiger cub and all of that stuff just perpetuates this image that this is okay – and it’s really not.”

When raising the topic of these prisons/marine parks with travel agents I‘ve been met with resistance, which really surprised me. I later saw a report that you guys published, which revealed that 50% of people don’t see a problem with these wildlife entertainments. What’s missing?

“I think it’s really interesting that you put the question in that way because it does feel like an outdated activity. I was at a Marine Park undercover a few weeks ago, a couple of Marine Parks actually, and the shows were just like circus shows. Trainers were being pushed around the pool, at one point they were pushing a child from the audience around the pool on a surfboard. And yet these venues argue that these ‘parks’ are educational and all I could see was that you were teaching the audience that it’s okay to exploit wild animals in this way. It’s a completely wrong message.

So, I think there are a few issues at play here. I think the venues put themselves out there as educational and important for conservation purposes. Interestingly at both the venues, I went to recently, there was a whole section in the show about how dangerous the ocean is for wild animals and that their animals were safer in the venue. And I’m not denying that there are many dangers in the ocean for wild animals of course, but it just seemed completely upside down.

Tourists are being bombarded with lies and wrong messaging. So I think that is a big part of it. It makes the tourists feel like it’s okay to be there because they’re being told it’s educational, it’s for conservation purposes.

On the exact same trip, I went to watch whales in their natural habitat just off the coast of Tenerife between Tenerife and the island La Gomera which is the area designated as a Whale Heritage Site. This means that the local community and the tour operators work really hard to make sure it’s a responsible Whale and Dolphin Watching area.

In these natural encounter trips, we were given a lot of information about the natural behaviors of dolphins, how deep they dive, what their behavior was at certain times of the year, and which ones we would expect to see and when. It was absolutely fascinating! In complete contrast to the fake shiny glossy circus shows that we had been at the day before.

Travel companies can play a huge role by stopping selling and promoting these marine park venues because not only does it dent the demand but it also has such a big impact on what we see as acceptable. Travel companies sell and market these ‘family days out’, as happy dolphins jumping out of the pool but it’s all complete smoke and mirrors.”

Behind the Green isn’t the only series worth checking out. Discover ‘Spot The Difference’ and our online learning.

I’m glad you brought up these weak justifications used by the marine parks as I just finished reading the book ‘How to Love Animals’ where the author tackles zoos using ‘education’ and ‘conservation’ to justify these profit-focused businesses. As you said before, these small concrete pools in which dolphins are forced to perform are unnatural. What message are we sending to kids and families about what natural is? These parks create confusion. It creates a distortion of what these animals should behave like.

“Yeah, absolutely. Sometimes I see online parents saying, ‘Well, my child really wants to see the dolphins. I don’t personally agree with the ethics of these marine parks and the captivity they profit from, but I’m going to take my kid anyway because they really want to see them and I can’t say no.’ This is a missed opportunity to show your kids why this is not okay. To teach them something of value. To provide examples of right and wrong.

Look, it’s not easy to find a solution for the 3,000 dolphins which are already captive, but these parks keep breeding more dolphins so it’s only making the problem worse. Moreover, bottlenose dolphins are 80% of the dolphins in captivity and these marine animals are not classified as endangered so again it shows you the messaging of ‘conservation’ is completely off.”

Something that the general public and even travel agents don’t seem to know is that Spain is Europe’s largest dolphin prison and sixth in the world. Why has Spain not followed other European countries to ban these types of wildlife entertainment?

“You’re right, Spain is the biggest dolphin prison in Europe. I don’t know why Spain hasn’t acted on the public pressure that already exists to stop these venues. I mean, it’s a very lucrative business.

The UK hasn’t had a marine park venue for over 30 years and yet UK tourists go abroad to Spain to visit this beautiful country and then go visit these cruel circus shows and marine parks.

When you arrive in Tenerife for example, you’re immediately bombarded with clever marketing and adverts for these marine parks. So, when arriving at the airport parents are then hounded by their kids to go and see the happy smiling dolphins. As a parent, you’ve got to have pester power. A huge marketing budget is spent to normalise this cruelty.

Tenerife is surrounded by an ocean, with accredited, natural dolphin and whale watching areas. So, it’s just ridiculous that these smart beings are being held captive.”

For anyone reading this that isn’t well versed, and also as a reminder to those who are, could you just share the daily reality for these captive dolphins? What does it feel like to be in their shoes?

“One of the biggest issues is space. These smart animals are essentially living in a space the size of a swimming pool. The tanks’ edges tend to be flat. The whole experience is set up for the tourist. Not for what’s best for the animal.

The venues are designed so that the tourists get the best view of the animals, basically, not so that the animals can retreat or find their own space. Often the water is chemically treated so that it’s clear, so tourists can see through. The walls are often bare and plain, partly so you can see them better, but also because it’s easier for them to clean the pool.

I met with a marine biologist when I was in Tenerife and most people know that dolphins communicate through echolocation, a sound like a series of clicks. The dolphins send out these pulses to recognise objects and prey. At one of the venues, the biologist showed the captive dolphin was using echolocation. The way that echolocation works is it bounces off objects and that’s how they can perceive what their environment’s like.

Now imagine you’re in a standard swimming pool and you’re using echolocation, these waves are bouncing back to you off these blank walls. The biologist told us about research that found the volume of captive dolphins to be much quieter because to put it into human terms they are just shouting at themselves in an echo chamber which is a really powerful way to think about it. Imagine trying to see and feel your way around and instead just getting your voice shouting back at you.

There are also behavioral restrictions. Dolphins are complex, highly intelligent social mammals. They’re marine predators, they’re meant to hunt and suddenly they’re in a situation where they have to do some kind of trick in order to get a piece of frozen fish that’s thrown at them.

There’s a different marine biologist that I was speaking to just yesterday who was analysing the behaviour of these intelligent animals in captivity. When you see a dolphin with its mouth open facing up out of the water, it’s basically begging for food. That would never happen in the wild.

These marine parks have turned them into circus performers that are begging for their food when they’re actually these just incredible social animals. One thing that is really heartbreaking is that these marine parks separate the calves from the mother, at a much earlier age than they would in the wild. The calves are taken because they often move to other parks or into different tanks. You know, it’s just ‘business’.

So, to step into their shoes, imagine the bond you might have with your own mother, and feel the trauma of that being ripped away. And finally, imagine being wheeled out to perform, to do unnatural movements 3 times a day just to get a meal.”

TUI and Jet2Holidays are travel companies that we need to hold to account and call out. They sell tickets to at least 25 marine park venues and continue to profit from captive dolphins. What advice do you have for eco-conscious travelers or travel agents who use these travel giants?

“TUI has such an amazing opportunity to make a positive change, yet they are ignoring what people want. So, for tourists, I’d say beyond not booking with TUI, let them know WHY. It’s a crucial step to let them know why you’re moving away or using another company to book your holiday. Whether that’s a comment on social media, an email, or an online review.

Every experience we engage in on holiday is sending a message out to the world about what we think is ok and what’s not. We can #votewithourwallets by simply not funding these marine parks.

In an ABTA survey quite recently, 70% of UK tourists said that how animals were treated was really important to them when booking their holiday. And we all need to get that message across to them. The more the better.”

How Can You Take Meaningful Action Today?

  • Join 155,000+ others who have signed a petition calling for the closure of these dolphin prisons in Spain. Started by Olivia, at 15 years old, who wants to follow in the footsteps of countries like Cyprus, Slovenia, Croatia, Costa Rica, and Chile, which have banned this type of dolphin park.
  • Support World Animal Protection‘s critical work and read their latest update on this topic here.
  • If you haven’t already tune into Blackfish on Netflix. A documentary following the controversial captivity of killer whales, and its dangers for both humans and whales.
  • Urge ABTA to update their animal welfare guidelines here. The UK hasn’t had these cruel attractions since the 1990s. ABTA needs us to remind them of just how behind they are.
  • Write an online review to TUI, Get Your Guide, and Jet2Holidays explaining why you’ll never book with them. Simply not using them isn’t enough we need them to know that their behavior is the reason we avoid them.

Thank you for taking the time and space to be here. The good news is it doesn’t have to end here. Discover more Behind the Green interviews below OR grow your knowledge of sustainable travel in an exciting online journey here.

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