Release Date: Aug. 2, 2013
Running Time: 83 minutes
I’ve lost count how many times I’ve been to the SeaWorld parks in San Antonio and Orlando. Like most of us, I was shocked to learn of the 2010 death of a SeaWorld trainer that involved Tilikum, one of the killer whales at the Orlando park, but that did not stop me going making my annual trip to the San Antonio park with my family. Shame on me. Blackfish chronicles in unflinching fashion three deaths connected to Tilikum, a 12,000-pound bull orca that was captured in 1993 when he was three years old. The documentary questions whether two deaths at SeaWorld Orlando could have been prevented and delves into the way killer whales are captured, trained and treated in captivity. The first incident occurred in 1991 when Tilikum was performing at Sealand of the Pacific in South Oak Bay, British Columbia. Tilikum was one of three killer whales involved in the drowning death of a trainer. After Sealand of the Pacific closed, SeaWorld acquired Tilikum and moved him to its Orlando park. In 1999, a man who remained in the park after hours was found dead the next morning laying across Tilikum’s back. Veteran trainer Dawn Brancheau died in 2010 when Tilikum pulled her underwater by her ponytail. Blackfish director Gabriela Cowpethwaite offers testimony from Sealand of the Pacific staff that indicates that years of abuse, by a trainer and two female killer whales, that turned Tilikum in a ticking bomb. They also express shock and dismay that SeaWorld allowed him to perform during shows rather than just use him for breeding. Yes, there’s a certain risk when interacting with killing whales, but former SeaWorld trainers who worked with Tilikum say they weren’t their superiors didn’t warn about his potentially aggressive nature. They describe Brancheau as an experienced trainer who would never have placed herself in danger. Cowpethwaite opens Blackfish with 911 calls pertaining to Brancheau’s drowning death that will leave you shaking your head in disbelief. Blackfish looks beyond Tilikum’s sad story to examine other past incidents that potentially put SeaWorld in bad light, from a decision to separate a calf born in capacity from its mother to the death of a trainer at the Spanish marine park Loro Parque that involved an orca on loan from SeaWorld. There’s also shocking archival footage from a 1999 incident that shows how a SeaWorld trainer narrowly escaped death after being dragged to the bottom of a pool by a killer whale. SeaWorld refused to grant any interviews for Blackfish, and it has precious few defenders in the documentaries, especially when it comes to the former trainers who lament what they did despite cherishing their interactions with these beautiful and intelligent mammals. I firmly believe that there is a place in our society for zoos and aquariums, where we can see the animals that we would not likely have an opportunity to encounter in their natural environment. However, these animals should be treat with love and respect, provided with above adequate living conditions, and not humiliated for our entertainment. Blackfish doesn’t demand SeaWorld close its doors, but it does beg for the company to take a long, hard look at the role of and the treatment of the killer whales in its parks that are there for us to behold in all their glory.
Aired: Aug. 1, 2013
Web site: http://www.magpictures.com/blackfish/