Wednesday, 20 November 2013


Title: Blackfish
Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Released: 2013 

Plot: A two thread documentary, the film investigates the orca Tikilum who has been responsible for three death aswell as the treatment of the species being kept in captivity with particular focus being placed on those kept by “SeaWorld”.

Review: It has been said that a great documentary moves their viewer as it informs, while a truly great documentary changes how we think and view the world around us and it’s the latter category I truly believe that this documentary belongs to. 

Largely comprised of interviews with ex-trainers, the history of Tikilum and his history in captivity is a compelling one starting with his capture in 1983 in incident which lead to the death of three adult whales, which as one of the divers reveals was also covered up by submerging the bodies. From here the film follows him as he was first moved to the now defunct “SeaLand”  which would be the site of his first attack on a trainer, before being finally bought by his current home “SeaWorld”. Along the way the film documents the cruelty such as inadiquent sized pools and underfeeding, aswell as the fact that he has frequently suffered aswell as attacks from other Orcas.

One Part nature documentary and the other animal activism piece, the film explores the nature and behaviour of Orca, while drawing comparisons to how captivity can changes their behaviour especially when kept in tanks and sheds too small to house creatures of their size, while also increasing aggression between orca’s as seen in the damage inflicted on Tikilum by two females he was put with as the film showcases footage and photographs of teeth raking and scaring inflicted on him from these confrontations.
While this the documentary might be unbalanced in the sense that all those interviewed are against the keeping of Orca’s in captivity, it is a strong case which is certainly put forward and in a sense only made the stronger by no representatives from “SeaWorld” being willing to contribute their side to the film, leaving their imput coming solely from the testimonals from the court cases featured here aswell as their history of attempting to cover up the attacks and place the blame on the trainers rather than admit to the risk which Tikilum poses to the trainers working with him.

It is interesting in this respect that the majority of the interviews are with ex-trainers, however these are not disgruntled staff but people who truly loved their job and the animals they worked with. They are however more than happy to shed light on the poor practices and conditions used for keeping Orca’s in captivity. It is equally worth noting that none of the trainers carry any kind of training or any form of qualifications to work as animal trainers but rather hired for their swimming ability and general enthusiasm which was something which came as a surprise to me, especially after years of thinking that the trainers must have some background in marine biology to work at the park. A myth which is only further highlighted during the section which exposes the various false pieces of information that guest are frequently told, such as the lifespan of orca being around 30 years when they can live to 100 in the wild while the dorsal fin collapsing so that it flops over is something which is something which only happens in captivity, again something which the park are keen to write off as being normal.

It is a shame that “SeaWorld” refused to be involved in the documentary if only to provide some form of balance, to proceedings rather than “SeaWorld” being portrayed as little more than corporation intrested in little more than making money with little concern for the welfare and treatment of both Orca’s and trainers. Needless to say following the release of the documentary they soon released the following statement to CNN

"Blackfish is billed as a documentary, but instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau's family, friends and colleagues. To promote its bias that killer whales should not be maintained in a zoological setting, the film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld -- among them, that SeaWorld is one of the world's most respected zoological institutions, that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research. Perhaps most important, the film fails to mention SeaWorld's commitment to the safety of its team members and guests and to the care and welfare of its animals, as demonstrated by the company's continual refinement and improvement to its killer whale facilities, equipment and procedures both before and after the death of Dawn Brancheau."

True this film can be written of being the documentary version of an animal rights pamphlet, especially as it lacks any kind of subtly with the facts much like both “The Cove” and “Sharkwater” which came before it, but at the same time these films are about inspiring change and reform and to this extent “Blackfish” more than succeeds in its aim. Needless to say after viewing this film I would find the prospect of watching an Orca show all the harder to stomach, while equally make me wonder if we are soon to see an end of animal acts in the same way that Circus’s no longer feature animal acts, I guess only time will tell but this documentary certainly provides much food for thought.

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