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“SFF’13 Movie Review: “Blackfish”

January 29, 2013

Blackfish_6402010, Dawn Brancheau, a veteran trainer at the well-known Orlando Sea World, lost her life when she was attacked by Tilikum, a killer whale weighing in just over ten thousand pounds. Tilikum was a regular attraction at the park, he’s the biggest animal of his kind in captivity, everyone loves seeing him. Sadly, what made the incident all the more disturbing was this was not the first time Tilikum had turned on one of his trainers.

“Blackfish” follows a 37 year look see about killer whales in captivity and how it’s affected the people and the creatures within the gates of these parks. Before the 2010 incident, Tilikum had caused the death of a trainer in 1991 before he was purchased by Sea World. While orcas will sometimes attack humans in captivity, such incidents are extremely rare in the wild, leading some scientists to question the wisdom of keeping large, intelligent, and sometimes territorial creatures in captivity and expecting them to perform on a regular basis.

“Blackfish” director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite was inspired to investigate after the death of Dawn, and many of Dawns friends and colleagues who no longer work for Sea World have decided to make it their mission to get the word out, that what’s going on with orcas in captivity is beyond wrong, it’s down right cruel. The trainers have abused the whales so they can get certain tricks right, and if they have to, the lower the animals food intake. Orcas are highly territorial, so to have six or so in a confined space everyday for the rest of their lives, it’s hard not imagine one or two of them snapping like Tilikum did.

Tilikum, as well as many other killer whales have a brain of high intellect and a life span shared with humans, yet people who work in these parks will tell you other wise. In the film we’re shown several park hosts telling visitors that they’ll live to be 30-35 yrs, automatically contradicted by the pros moments later. Tilikum, who’s suffered emotional problems for years now is being used as a…sperm bank for Sea World and other parks like them. Most of the captive orcas today are direct descendant of Tilikum! WHY? Why would anyone think that should be ok to produce off spring of a whale who has a history of killing trainers and injuring countless others?

While the movie is indeed powerful, I feel as though it just wasn’t provocative and earth shattering enough as the 2009 documentary, “The Cove”, which was easily one of my favorite docs of the last decade. It’s hard to not walk a way with tears after seeing that film, but with “Blackfish”, it just left a disgusting taste in my mouth regarding the now still presence of Sea World. And while I’m sure that’s the point it was trying to get across, for me there was a special ingredient missing for me. Be that as it may, it’s still an important movie I feel many young viewers need to see, before they step foot in a Sea World with their mommy and daddy.


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