Blackfish is a very effective and heartbreaking documentary from Gabriela Cowperthwaite that portrays the psychological effects captivity has on the killer whale, a creature known for it’s exceptional intelligence and a surprisingly wide array of emotions. While a predator, the killer whale also has never been known to harm a human being in the wild yet, Blackfish reveals that the effects of their treatment in captivity may have changed that, as a number of injuries and deaths have been attributed to these normally majestic and human friendly animals.
The documentary uses the story of Tilikum, a SeaWorld resident and one of the largest killer whales in captivity who has been involved in not one but three deaths including two trainers and one individual who chose to sneak into the park at night and was found dead draped over the animals back the following morning. While SeaWorld has attributed these deaths to trainer error, or in the case of the park intruder, accidental drowning, the condition of the bodies revealed by autopsies indicate otherwise. We are painted a picture that depicts an organization that keeps these large animals in small dark tanks for hours, takes babies away from their mothers at only a few months old and puts the very family oriented animals in with unfamiliar members of it’s species resulting in bullying and aggressive behavior. We get interviews with former trainers who describe the sad and sometimes cruel way these majestic beasts are treated and how SeaWorld likes to paint a far different, almost fairy tale like picture of the animals’ life there. The footage we see and the trainer testimony is organized in a very effective profile of an intelligent animal that is normally gentle and friendly towards humans whose life in captivity frustrates and twists them till they become violent and aggressive to not only each other, but towards their keepers as well. And to be honest, it is not only heartbreaking but aggravating to watch, not only for the whales treatment, but at the audacity of SeaWorld to blame the injuries and tragic deaths on the trainers themselves and not the emotional scarring of the animals they work with. The recent death of trainer Dawn Brancheau is especially focused on here and you watched with clenched fists as this woman, who obviously loved her job and the animals she worked with, was brutally killed by an emotional outburst by Tilikum only to have SeaWorld blame her death solely on her. If this documentary sounds bias, to a degree, it has a point to make and in it’s defense, SeaWorld was offered a chance to appear on camera and tell their but and refused, only now issuing a statement refuting the film now that it has been shown and gotten attention.
So while the film does give a very negative view of theme parks like this and it’s effects on the animals that are captive there, it wasn’t like the theme parks weren’t given an opportunity to have their say. And by letting Cowperthwaite paint her emotional and heartbreaking story with actual footage and testimony unchallenged, we get a powerful and moving indictment of a business that seems to turn a blind eye to it’s treatment of animal and trainer alike and the sometimes fatal repercussions it has, as long as those turnstiles keep turning and the money keeps rolling in. A very effective documentary and more of an emotional impact then most films you’re likely to see.
4 killer whales!