Film Review – Blackfish

So everyone already knows that SeaWorld is evil, right? Good. Well, the conclusions of a film based on exploring what led to the death of a SeaWorld trainer at the fins of a bull orca should come as no surprise to anyone. However, SeaWorld themselves were so incensed at the content of the film Blackfish that they took the bizarre step of writing to films critics denouncing the film to be deliberately misleading. Kinda makes it even more intriguing doesn’t it?

Blackfish TilikumBlackfish | 2013 | Gabriela Cowperthwaite | USA | 15 | 83 mins

Blackfish focuses on the notorious 12,000lb male orca Tilikum who has been implicated in the deaths of three people. Cowperthwaite follows Tilikum’s story from when he was captured as a youngster in British Columbia, to his residence in Sealand of the Pacific where he killed trainer Keltie Bryne, his subsequent move to SeaWorld Florida and his life there as a stud whale, a performer and a killer of two more people. Using interviews with former trainers and whale experts Blackfish exposes some very uncomfortable truths. Tilikum and the other killer whales do not harm or kill people because they are naturally aggressive or unaware of what they are doing. Rather, they are hyper sensitive creatures whose capitivity has driven them to these behaviors.

Unsurprisingly, representatives and current employees of SeaWorld do not make comment during the film. This is most missed when you see archive footage of whale attacks that did not result in fatalities. Most notably, the incident where experienced trainer Kenneth Peters was attacked in 2006 by Kasatka. The footage was very clear and it appeared that Kasatka’s intention was to drown Peters. His own take on the near death experience (his own take, not SeaWorld’s) was sadly missed from the film.

Cowperthwaite started making this film after hearing about the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. She had visited SeaWorld with her own children and had believed that the animals there were happy. Her genuine shock at this tragic event ignited her journalistic curiosity and resulted in Blackfish. This fact is what makes Blackfish a deeply compelling film. It is not made by activists. There is not appeal to boycott SeaWorld or a link to a Facebook petition at the end. The director lets the facts speak for themselves. And what harrowing facts they are.

Currently, the ruling following the OSHA case still stands – humans are not allowed in the water with killer whales. However, SeaWorld are appealing this. If they are successful, no doubt is left in the viewers mind that another death will occur. Perhaps Tilikum will be the cause of it, or perhaps one of his many offspring.


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