Virgin America Inc. became the latest airline to cut ties with SeaWorld Entertainment Inc., following pressure from animal-rights activists who object to keeping killer whales in captivity.

Virgin America dropped SeaWorld from its Elevate rewards program, which let customers earn points toward travel and other items by spending money at the parks, Abby Lunardini, a spokeswoman for the airline, said in an e-mail.

The decision marks a victory for groups such as People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which have targeted airlines, artists and consumers in a campaign that has hurt SeaWorld’s business and sent its stock price to a record low. Southwest Airlines Co., which has had SeaWorld animals painted on its planes, ended a 26-year marketing relationship with the theme park in July.

“PETA is calling on SeaWorld to develop ocean sanctuaries in which orcas could be rehabilitated and finally have the opportunity to engage in natural behaviors” and be observed by visitors, the organization said in a statement.

SeaWorld, based in Orlando, fell 2.3 percent to $17.92 October 13 in New York, its lowest closing price since the company was taken public by private-equity firm Blackstone Group LP in April 2013. The stock fell 33 percent on Aug. 13 after the company said the controversy over its treatment of captive whales had hurt attendance.

Virgin America, based in Burlingame, California, began service in 2007 and, while separate, is partly owned by billionaire Richard Branson. The airline has ties to his London- based Virgin Group Ltd., a collection of about 100 retail, travel, music and communications businesses that includes Virgin Atlantic Airways Ltd.

Branson Targeted

Branson drew complaints this year because of his travel agency’s sale of tour packages with trips to SeaWorld and other parks where whales and dolphins perform.

Virgin Unite, Virgin Group’s non-profit foundation, on Sept. 30 asked theme parks and resorts it works with to pledge not to accept whales and dolphins that were taken from the wild after Feb. 14 of this year, “except when necessitated by the needs of rehabilitation, rescue or support for endangered species.”

SeaWorld’s parks in Orlando, San Antonio and Texas are among the theme parks that signed the pledge.

To contact the reporters on this story: Christopher Palmeri in Los Angeles at; Mary Schlangenstein in Dallas at To contact the editors responsible for this story: Anthony Palazzo at; Ed Dufner at Ben Livesey

Photo Credit: PETA's anti-Seaworld ad features actress and San Diego native Kathy Najimy. PETA