After hearing so much about this documentary and the controversy surrounding it, I finally decided to watch the film “Blackfish.” The main event that this film is based on of is the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010, the result of an attack by the famed orca Tilikum. The film uses several clips of footage from SeaWorld and the accounts of several former SeaWorld employees to show the audience the potential danger of killer whales in captivity. I was personally fascinated by this film after watching it. However, like any smart person does after watching something based on true events, I did some research on the film afterward and became even more fascinated at the subsequent support and backlash this film has generated. The main clash involves SeaWorld claiming that the film is misleading and propaganda, while the filmmakers argued that everything they portrayed was factual. Before getting into the details, the main point that film makes which cannot be argued, is that killer whales can be extremely dangerous and better safety precautions should have been taken before the 2010 attack was allowed to occur.
One of the most interesting things I found in this film is the sheer intelligence of these animals. At one point a neurologist claims that the orcas have an extra part of their brain relating to emotional intelligence that humans don’t have, although this is disputed by SeaWorld. Nevertheless, it is not disputed that these animals are very smart and are very social, capable of establishing strong relationships and performing many impressive tricks. A major debate that came out of this film is the morality of taking animals out of the wild and putting them in captivity. The film claims there has never been any documented violence between humans and orcas in the wild, whereas it shows several different situations where trainers were attacked by whales in captivity. It is difficult to know what the reasons behind these attacks were, since each time they were a complete shock and seemingly unprovoked. The film argues that being kept in captivity and separated from their family causes extreme stress and frustration. In the case of Tilikum, he was repeatedly attacked by the other whales as well, with nowhere to hide. When the park was not open, he would essentially be put in an underwater jail cell that was completely dark.
I can definitely see both sides when it comes to the debate about captivity. On one hand, it looks like the killer whales are being treated very well and 99% of the time they get along very well with the trainers and seem to enjoy performing for people. On the other hand, the emotional pain of being separated from your family and forced to live in a confined space with other whales that can be aggressive toward you takes a toll. I found it interesting when one of the people who was interviewed describes the whales cry when its baby was taken from it and how horrific it was to hear. I think that supports the claim that these orcas are very emotionally and family driven creatures. The mistake that I think ultimately makes me lean toward the side of the film in terms of the Dawn Brancheau tragedy was the history of Tilikum. He had a proven track record of previous attacks, but his value was too great for SeaWorld where they would have lost a ton of revenue by cutting his shows. Although SeaWorld argues that trainers were warned about Tilikum, it ultimately shows that they knew the risks of working with him when they no longer allowed trainers into the water with him and reduced his role for shows following the tragedy and subsequent court hearing.
I do highly recommend that people watch this documentary and read up about it afterwards. It is definitely a very interesting film to watch. After watching, I would check out the link below which does a good job of summarizing the back and forth between SeaWorld and the filmmakers.
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