Blackfish is a documentary about a very special Orca named Tilikum. The film shows the story starting with his capture and goes up to his transfer to SeaWorld Florida. The film shows some world defining events that unfolded in his presence. Blackfish was first shown at the 2013 Sundance film festival, it was such a great film that it was backed by Magnolia Pictures and CNN films for DVD release. The documentary consists of interviews from real life SeaWorld trainers who worked with and around Tilikum. It also includes interviews with scientist from different backgrounds to help show the dangers of keeping Orcas (AKA Killer Whales) in captivity and used for show. Blackfish sought to show the world the truth behind SeaWorld’s treatment and misuse of Orcas, by using the story of Tilikum.
Tilikum’s story begins in 1983. In his remorseful interview, John Crowe tells the story of capturing Tilikum and other Orcas. He states, “it’s like kidnapping a little kid from his mother” (Blackfish, John Crowe). Tilikum was one of the largest Orcas ever captured at two years old he was roughly 12 feet long. He was sold to a park named Sealand of the Pacific. Tilikum remained at this park for about 7 years. According to an article on the PETA2 website by Kim Johnson “on February 21st, 1991 Sealand trainer Keltie Byrne fell into the pool containing Tilikum, he dragged her to the bottom and she drowned.” (Kim Johnson) Shortly after this event Sealand closed and Tilikum was sold to SeaWorld. At SeaWorld Tilikum was kept in a pool with 2 other Orcas. The problem was that Tilikum was from a different family then the other two. Blackfish interviews Eric Walters a former SeaWorld Trainer who states “during certain times of the year he would be covered with rakes, these are teeth to teeth scratches on the skin … his entire body would be covered with them” (Blackfish) This shows that the animals really did not get a long the 2 females would gang up on Tilikum and attack him throughout the night while they were in storage. This would cause Tilikum to be more aggressive.
The film goes on to explain that although Tilikum showed aggressive behavior at times, he was still used in shows and trainer were still allowed to enter the pool with him. This resulted in two more deaths, first Daniel P. Dukes in 1999 and Dawn Brancheau in 2010. SeaWorld played off Daniel Dukes death as an accidental drowning due to his own discourse. They claimed he was a mentally ill person who had gotten into the park afterhours and slipped into the pool and drown. In multiple interviews with former SeaWorld trainers conducted in the Blackfish film they contradicted the official SeaWorld statement. They said that there was evidence that Tilikum had drowned him just as he done to Keltie Byrne at Sealand. SeaWorld also blamed Dawn’s death on herself. Saying that it was her fault and she wasn’t supposed to be in the pool. This event lead to Tilikum being kept in a small pool in isolation for nearly a year. After that Tilikum was allowed to be used in shows again, but he was transferred to SeaWorld Florida. This is where the story of Tilikum ends in Blackfish, in January 2017 Tilikum died.
Blackfish does an extremely good job at telling us how SeaWorld treats their animals and, even after multiple incidents allowed people to interact with the dangerous animals. Blackfish uses the story of Tilikum to show us multiple wrong doings and lies that come from SeaWorld. The film did have a large effect on SeaWorld after it was released to DVD and became widely popular. This was known as the “Blackfish effect” SeaWorlds stock dropped drastically as did park attendance.
The film did a very good job at teaching us a little bit about whales. It teaches us about Orcas families known as Pods, their lifespans in the wild, dorsal collapse and shows us how they are aggressive in the wild as well. For about 3 years after the film was released SeaWorld had no response to it. Eventually SeaWorld created a website as response to Blackfish, this site is named “SeaWorld Cares” on the website they state, “The film relies on animal rights activists masquerading as scientists.” (SeaWorld Cares) and “The film spins an entirely fictitious account of Dawn Brancheau’s death in order to advance its anti-captivity narrative.” (SeaWorld Cares) SeaWorld felt that, because they scientist loved animals and testified against SeaWorld in a court case with OSHA, they were not real scientist. One of the most important scientists interviewed was Kenneth C. BALCOMB who is the founder and lead investigator at the Center for Whale Research. According to the Center for Whale Research website “Kenneth C. Balcomb spent 12 years sailing around the Atlantic Ocean following whales and studying them” (Center for Whale Research) This already shows that the SeaWorld Cares website is lying to try to brush the Blackfish film under the rug. In Blackfish they show us multiple lies that SeaWorld has their employees tell visitors such as, Dorsal fin collapse happens in about 50% of all male Orcas and they have a much lower mortality rate in captivity. In the article The Truth about ‘The Truth about Blackfish’ it states that “in the wild, only 1-5% of male orcas in populations have fully collapsed dorsal fins.” (David Neiwert). The article also states that “Their annual mortality rate was more than two and a half times higher in captivity than in the wild” (David Neiwert).
In conclusion Blackfish does a fantastic job showing the truth about SeaWorld and Tilikum’s life story. It uses multiple scenes which prey on emotions and gets the viewer to feel sympathetic to the animals and how they are traded. The film employs reputable scientist to prove every statement it makes. The previous trainers interviewed in the film are all based on personal and first-hand experiences with Tilikum and other Orca’s at SeaWorld. Remember that next time you are thinking of going to SeaWorld, think of this review and the truth behind SeaWorld and the story of Tilikum
Barrett-Lennard, Lance G., et al. “Predation on Gray Whales and Prolonged Feeding on Submerged Carcasses by Transient Killer Whales at Unimak Island, Alaska.” Marine Ecology Progress Series, vol. 421, 2011, pp. 229–241. JSTOR, JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/24874414.
Blackfish. Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Magnolia Pictures, 2013.
“Truth about Blackfish.” SeaWorld Cares, 2015, https://seaworldcares.com/the-facts/truth-about-blackfish/.
Center for Whale Research. The Center for Whale Research Non-Profit Organization, 1976, https://www.whaleresearch.com/about-orcas Accessed 11 Nov. 2018.
David Neiwert. “The Truth about ‘The Truth about Blackfish’ ” The dodo, 7 May 2014, https://www.thedodo.com/the-truth-about-the-truth-abou-540025703.html
Johnson Kim. “Tilikum’s Life Story Will Bring You to Tears” PETA2, 06 Jan. 2017, https://www.peta2.com/news/tilly-seaworld/ Accessed 2 Dec. 2018.
Zaveri Mihir. “SeaWorld Agrees to Pay $5 Million in ‘Blackfish Effect’ Case” The New York Times, 19 Sept. 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/19/business/seaworld-blackfish-fine.html Accessed 25 Nov. 2018.