Blackfish is a harrowing documentary bringing to light the shocking, irresponsible and immoral treatment of killer whales kept in captivity that undoubtably led to the death of several whale trainers.
The film, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, follows the life in captivity of an orca, Tilikum, who’s involved in the deaths of three of his trainers. The story follows his capture off the coast of Iceland all the way to the tragic, and entirely preventable, death of his trainer, Dawn Brancheau.
While I wasn’t necessarily surprised by what I saw in this documentary, I was appalled by pretty much everybody in it. These animals are mercilessly hunted and brutally wrenched from their natural environments to live in what would essentially be the equivalent of a human living in a bath tub. In the dark. With other people.
And what for? For our amusement. Because people like to see animals do funny things. Who cares if the price we pay is not only putting these animals through a considerable amount of suffering but is also human loss of life.
And these animals did suffer. They were basically driven mad. Food was withheld as a training technique. They were so mistreated they resorted to attacking each other. Tilikum was on the receiving end of vicious attacks from dominant female whales. Locking these animals up in close proximity to each other caused them to become violent to each other and, in the end, to their human trainers.
While the mistreatment of animals didn’t surprise me in the slightest, I was shocked that so many people didn’t seem to care, or know. What was most disappointing was the ignorance and naivety of the trainers who worked with these whales on a daily basis. In retrospect, they all condemn the actions of the organisations they worked for. They claim to care for these animals and are all perfectly apt at turning on the tears for the camera, but in my eyes they are just as complicit as anyone else. To be fair, one trainer did say that he didn’t feel he could leave because it was his duty to look after the whales.
What was most shocking, however, were extend of the lies told by SeaWorld. This began with lying about the health of their animals, who have a significantly lower lifespan in captivity. They live to around 30 years old in captivity. They lied to customers and said this was the normal lifespan of a killer whale, which can live up to twice this age in nature. A notable feature of SeaWorld’s male whales, including Tilikum, is that many of them have dorsal fin collapse, which is rare in the wild.
This systemic lying then spread to shifting the blame when Dawn Brancheau was mutilated by Tilikum. They tried to blame her, by saying she slipped and fell before backtracking suggesting that the whale grabbed her ponytail, which should have been tied up, and dragged her under the water. This was despite eye witlessnesses stating otherwise. According to the documentary, everyone knew that Tilikum would attack someone and no precautions were taken. Everyone knew the whales, Tilikum in particular, were becoming aggressive and responding less to their training. Everyone knew a trainer would be killed. And yet, everything just carried on as normal and a woman died because of it.
SeaWorld still fail to take any responsibility for what happened. In fact, they’ve even got an article, which is a pathetic attempt to discredit the documentary. It’s embarrassing.
EXCELLENT. This is a fascinating documentary, it almost feels like you’re watching a murder documentary. The cover-ups, the lies, the tragedy, it’s all told in such a compelling way, building up to what we all know is going to happen. It’s like watching a slow motion car crash. We can all see what’s going wrong and we can’t help but ask: why is nothing being done?