Film review: Blackfish

I saw the newly released documentary film “Blackfish” last weekend, directed by filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite (who we interviewed on the Animal Voices show about a month ago – you can listen to that podcast here). And if you’ve ever attended any kind of marine animal entertainment facility before (hello, SeaWorld or the Vancouver Aquarium), or would consider doing so, watching this film first should be mandatory for any patron of these places, which I like to facetiously call “whale jails”. (and you’ll know why, after watching this film)

Blackfish_documentary_banner“Blackfish” is a gripping and thoroughly researched presentation that tells the stories of the histories of orca killer whales in captivity at various Sea World (and Sea World-esque) facilities around the world from the 1970s to present day. Even the local and now defunct Sealand of Victoria plays a role in this never ending tale of abuse and dominance of humans over these sentient beings.

When it comes to learning about what goes on behind the scenes in this animal entertainment industry, we are given indisputable information via legal documents, graphic video footage of orca attacks, and first hand accounts as reported by a collection of ex-Sea World trainers throughout the film. As they tell their stories of working with the orcas, you can see that these trainers feel regret, shame, and sorrow for the way the creatures were treated during their tenures, and the way they are still treated now, years later.

While weaving pieces of captive whale history together, the film focuses on the story of Tilikum the whale, who has now murdered 3 people in his time of servitude, and we learn about the little before known details of exactly what led up to these 3 incidents of death. The industry PR heads try to spin tales of trainer fault to the public, but upon further investigation, by the film itself, a picture is painted of gross mistreatment of these animals who should be living in expanse oceans and not tiny pens, swimming freely with their pods and not being forced to do tricks for food. Their conditions are miserable; their freedom is non-existent.

We see that living in captivity for the rest of their lives leads to extreme frustration and psychosis of being trapped in these jails, and this leads to the orcas purposely lashing out to the trainers, as they have no other outlet for expressing their anguish. (and, interestingly enough, we learn that the average life span for an orca whale in captivity is 25-35 years, whereas in the wild, their life span is the same of that as for humans) Don’t accuse the storytellers of anthropomorphizing the situation for the whales – watch the film and you will see for yourself that this despair is really the case.

So why would an animal, such as Tilikum, even be kept to continue to “perform” if he has now a serial track record of killing people? It’s because they need him for his very valuable sperm, we are told, and a pictorial graphic emerges on the screen that shows the family tree of the many other captive orcas that Tilikum’s sperm has created – all for the profit of millions, and totaling to 50 per cent of Sea World’s orca flock. I guess the lives of some humans here and there are worth the cost of running the business.

It is interesting to note that many marine mammal entertainment facilities (ie. Sea World) were contacted for interviews in the making of this film, and all declined. So they were not given a platform to tell their side of the story, because they turned that offer down. However, now Sea World is arming a backlash upon this film as it debuts in theatres across the continent, in a futile attempt to cover up the truths that we know are so wrong. There is no way that a person watching this film will leave uninformed with the stark knowledge – and thus with consumer power – on what this dirty animal entertainment industry is really all about.

It is said in the film (and it is also my opinion) that in 50 years, we will look upon this time in our society as a barbaric culture that treated these sentient creatures in a way that will seem unfathomable to the thoughtful human mind. The content of this film presents in depth and irrefutable evidence of what really happens in this marine animal entertainment industry, and exposes the industry for its true unscrupulous nature.

Continued public education such as the documentary “Blackfish” will mean the eventual extinction of this animal exploitation industry as we know it today. Watch this film to get the process started!

One thought on “Film review: Blackfish

  1. Karen White

    It’s good to read a thorough review of this film as it’s creating quite a stir it seems. I hope to have the opportunity to see ‘Blackfish’ soon, as I believe it has now also been released here in London.

    Although we don’t have any dolphinariums in the UK with the last ones closing over 20 years ago, we do still keep aquariums and some of these have sharks which are perceived as being suitable for tank environments. I hope this film will help the public see that ALL these animals deserve a natural life in the ocean, rather than one in containment and people will respond by not supporting these businesses with their ticket money.

    I think the words of the film as you have summarised really speak volumes: ‘In fifty years time we will look upon this time in our society as a barbaric culture that treated these sentient creatures in a way that will seem unfathomable to the thoughtful human mind’.

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