ORLANDO, Fla. – UK-based Virgin Holidays has decided to no longer sell tickets to SeaWorld and other attractions that involve captive whales and dolphins.

  • Virgin Holidays to no longer sell tickets to SeaWorld
  • The company cited animal welfare concerns
  • SeaWorld called the decision "disappointing"

Virgin Group founder Richard Branson shared the news in a blog post earlier this week.

"For all of us at Virgin, the announcement marks the most significant milestone yet on a five-year journey to drive positive change in the tourism industry," Branson wrote.

The travel company has been working toward the decision since 2014 when it announced the Virgin Pledge—a commitment to working with "suppliers that don't take sea cetaceans from the wild."

In addition to SeaWorld, Virgin Holidays will also no longer sell tickets to Atlantis Paradise Island in the Bahamas and Atlantis The Palm in Dubai.

SeaWorld has pushed back against Virgin's decision, saying it was "disappointed" to see Virgin Holidays "succumb to pressure from animal activists who mislead and manipulate marine mammal science to advance their agendas."

"With more than 35,000 animal rescues and decades of meaningful scientific contributions, we are proud to be a recognized global leader in marine mammal science, education and, in particular, providing preeminent care to all of our marine mammals," said Dr. Chris Dodd, SeaWorld's Chief Zoological Officer, in a statement.

"No company does more to protect marine mammals and advance cetacean research, rescue and conservation than SeaWorld," he added.

Others, including the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, agreed with SeaWorld.

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

Last year, UK travel company Thomas Cook announced it would no longer sell tickets to parks that keep orcas in captivity.