Thomas Cook has confirmed the Atlantis Sanya resort in China, which keeps beluga whales and dolphins in captivity, will undergo an animal welfare audit.

Animal rights groups have criticised Cook for continuing to sell package holidays to the recently opened resort on Hainan Island after publicly announcing it was dropping attractions that keep killer whales.

Cook released a programme of package holidays to the Chinese tropical beach resort last month, including Atlantis Sanya which has a marine and waterpark, home to Bottlenose dolphins, white sided dolphins, sea lions and beluga whales held for display and entertainment.

Atlantis, which is owned by Chinese conglomerate Fosun which also has a 11% share in Cook, does not keep orcas.

Dolphin Freedom UK said it has written to Cook’s environmental manager following concerns it is promoting beluga captivity and a new dolphinarium market in China.

A blog post entitled ‘Thomas Cook: Goodbye orcas, hello belugas?’ read: “The market in China not only exploits dolphins, but also exploits beluga whales and orcas too.

“Dolphin Freedom believe this is a very tangible admission by Thomas Cook to show that they are supporting the new marine park industry in China and the confinement of beluga whales.”

Cook says it has removed 29 attractions in the last 18 months which failed to meet the minimum Abta animal welfare standards and will “continue to keep its policy under review”.

A spokesman from Cook said: “Thomas Cook takes the welfare of animals in captivity very seriously. We are the only tour operator to audit all of the animal attractions we sell and, as a result of this audit process, have removed 29 attractions in the last 18 months which didn’t meet the minimum Abta animal welfare standards that we insist upon.

“In addition, we are the first major holiday company to announce that we are going to stop selling excursions which keep orcas in captivity – a bold decision and one that is in keeping with our leadership position in this area.

“We will continue to insist that all animal attractions we sell undergo an audit under our rolling programme of audits conducted by an independent provider.

“This will include the Atlantis Sanya, only recently opened. We will also continue to review our animal welfare policy and use our voice to promote a transition away from traditional animal attractions towards more sustainable alternatives.”