Blackfish; the documentary that has the power to put an end to multi-million dollar industry, SeaWorld.
SeaWorld Orlando opened it’s doors in 1988 and it was an instant hit. The sea-life entertainment park remains extremely popular with both Americans and international holiday-goers and tourists over 25 years later.
The whale show is one of the park’s main attractions, which is full to the brim with tricks, flips, waves and splashes. However, critical eyes were placed on Seaworld in 2010, after experienced whale trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was killed by one of the shows leading stars, 12,000 pound bull orca whale, Tilikum.
There were concerns about how this incident might effect ticket sales and the overall popularity of the sea-life park. But after many statements from SeaWorld executives, whereby the incident was blamed solely on a ‘trainer error’ and concluded that the whales were not dangerous, the public was successfully reassured and continued to pour their money into this multi-million dollar industry.
However, the feature length documentary film Blackfish is rapidly undoing all of Seaworld’s great efforts to keep certain facts, that would surely damage their reputation, from reaching the public.
Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, the documentary includes statements from previous SeaWorld trainers and whale hunters, which, together, reveal a dark history encompassed by crime, deceit and multiple deaths.
Though SeaWorld has defended itself by claiming to be a ‘zoological institution’, the film also reveals embarrassing false-facts, which the ‘expert’ staff teaches park visitors on a daily basis; visitors are told that a killer whale’s life-span ranges from 30-35 years, but they often live longer in captivity. They also informed them that 25% of orca whales, both wild and captive, have ‘floppy dorsal fins’, which is more common as they get older.
However, in reality, less than 1% of wild killer whales have collapsed dorsal fins, compared to 100% of captive bull orcas. Killer whales also have human life-spans, having much shorter lives in captivity.
The documentary attacks the effects of captivity, both mentally and physically, on orca whales; experts argue that being trapped in an environment with little to no active stimuli is likely to have an extremely negative effect on the mental well-being of killer whales.
By forcing the whales to share such a cramped environment, whale on whale aggression is quite common. Captive whales have often been severely injured by one another and in some cases even killed.
This is made worse by operant conditioning, which is SeaWorld’s training technique, whereby whales are starved if they do not display ‘perfect behaviours’, resulting in the whales becoming frustrated and often turning against each other.
Previous SeaWorld trainers, that are featured in Blackfish, believe that human and orca deaths are preventable and cannot be blamed on ‘trainer error’ or a ‘bad whale’.
There are no reports of killer whale attacks on humans in the wild; Tilikum and all other whales are simply extremely frustrated because they are confined, teased and bored. The whales are only let out of their prison cells in order to perform, and then quickly escorted back into their bath-tub.
The documentary calls for the release of all young whales and that older whales, like Tilikum – who has been captive since the age of 4, should be sent to large ocean enclosures, where they are able to feel the waves again.
The documentary ends with a trip out into the ocean, where ex-SeaWorld trainers got to witness a pod free orca whales. Despite the fact that these individuals have previously spent a great deal of time around these mammals, and within a much closer proximity, they felt ‘honoured’ to have the opportunity to see them in their natural environment. Seeing the whales in all their glory, playing and without collapsed dorsal fins, invoked a powerful and profound emotional response from the trainers.
The documentary teaches us that we can all be activists and make a difference, simply by not buying a ticket. Where there is no profit, these magical creatures will no longer be exploited. I would strongly recommend watching this film, whether you be an animal lover or not.