Animal welfare groups yesterday pledged to continue their campaign to persuade Hong Kong Airlines to stop carrying live dolphins amid confusion over whether the practice would continue.
A letter to one group last week by the airline's British office in response to protests over the carrying of live dolphins suggested the practice would be halted immediately.
The letter said: 'Since it is believed that transportation of this nature can result in endangering wildlife elsewhere, Hong Kong Airlines will immediately ban shipments of this kind.'
But the airline's Hong Kong headquarters has refused to confirm the shift of stance, despite repeated requests for clarification.
Thousands have signed an online petition calling for an end to dolphin flights after the airline flew five dolphins from Osaka in Japan to Hanoi in Vietnam on January 16.
International animal welfare groups warned of a passenger boycott unless the airline agreed not to carry live dolphins in future.
The uproar came after a memo to airline staff boasting how much cargo revenue the flight generated and including a photograph of the dolphins confined in narrow plastic funnels on board the plane was leaked.
Protesters suspect the dolphins originated from Taiji, the area featured in the Oscar-winning documentary The Cove, where dolphins not selected for the aquarium trade are slaughtered in their thousands.
In earlier letters to other animal welfare groups, the airline claimed it had been unaware of the 'dark side' of the dolphin industry before the protests and said: 'We have all learnt a great lesson.'
Those contrite letters said it was 'very unlikely' Hong Kong Airlines would carry dolphin shipments in future but did not categorically rule it out. The airline has not responded to requests asking it to confirm and clarify the statement from the London office, which carried no name other than the airline's. Hong Kng Airlines also did not respond to requests for comment.
Samuel Hung of the Hong Kong Dolphin Conservation Society, who has led the campaign against the dolphin shipments, said: 'Some people are claiming this as a victory already but I am suspicious because Hong Kong Airlines will not clarify this matter to us. We will not let up until they give us the explicit answer we are looking for.'