Published on Thursday, August 29, 2013
A customer complained to advertising watchdogs after discovering that dolphins in a resort advertised by Virgin Holidays as offering Dubai's "first and only marine animal rescue and rehabilitation facility" had neither been rescued nor rehabilitated.
The dolphins are kept in what Virgin described in its brochure as a state of the art lagoon facility at the Dolphin Bay Atlantis, part of the Atlantis Hotel, where guests are able to swim with them.
It described it as "an unbelievable experience, that is fun, educational and conservation minded at the same time".
However, the complainant told the Advertising Standards Authority the dolphins were caught in the wild, rather than rescued, and were not rehabilitated or released back into the wild.
In its defence, Virgin submitted a letter to the ASA from the resort which stated that the dolphins at the Dolphin Bay facility came from an existing facility, the Solomon Islands Marine Mammal Education Centre.
The resort denied partnering with dolphin drive fisheries or non-professional operators and confirmed that all local and international wildlife laws were followed in bringing the dolphins to the resort.
They advised that their definition of "rescue" was to save from a dangerous or distressing situation and by "rehabilitation" they meant providing treatment designed to facilitate the process of recovery from injury, illness, or disease to as normal a condition as possible.
Virgin said that Dolphin Bay at Atlantis, the Palm was equipped with the necessary equipment to save dolphins from danger or distress as a result of sickness or beaching and to rehabilitate them to recovery from injury illness or disease.
Virgin said that, since opening, there had not been any strandings in the area and the resort had not had to use their facilities. However, so that they could be advised of a stranding occurring, they held an Emergency Response Workshop for Dolphin Beach Stranding to help advise relevant marine parties of their facilities and what could be done in the case of coming across a stranding.
Virgin said despite the substantiation provided by the resort, they had taken the decision to remove the claim "Dubai's first and only marine animal rescue and rehabilitation facility" from their marketing.
Upholding the complaint, the ASA acknowledged that the resort was, in a manner of speaking, a rescue and rehabilitation facility for marine animals, in that it had the necessary equipment, expertise and licence, however it noted that the resort had not rescued or rehabilitated any animals.
"We considered that, without further clarification, the average consumer would infer from the claim, "Dubai's first and only marine animal rescue and rehabilitation facility" that the animals at the resort had been rescued and were being rehabilitated with a view to release, where appropriate," it said.
"Because we understood that this was not the case we concluded that the ad was misleading."
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