Review: 'Blackfish' Is A Heartbreaking & Effectively Damning Indictment Of SeaWorld

Reviews
by Kimber Myers
July 16, 2013 7:05 PM
14 Comments
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"Blackfish"
Blackfish” will ruin your memories of childhood. Never again will you look back fondly on traveling to SeaWorld and watching the Shamu show, jealous of the kids in the splash zone. After watching the documentary you’ll more likely go down the black hole of the internet, reading the Outside Magazine feature that inspired the film and not stopping until you’ve done more research on killer whales than a fourth grader writing a science report. Of course your ire won’t be directed at the creatures in the pools that used to seem so giant at SeaWorld; instead, it will be targeted toward those running the parks and obscuring the truth from both the public and its employees.

Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s “Blackfish” begins with a recording of the disturbing 911 call after the 2010 deadly attack by Tilikum. The majestic orca was the star at Sea World Orlando before he attacked and killed his trainer, Dawn Brancheau. From there, the film rewinds to the ‘70s, revealing how the mammals were brought to SeaWorld and other marine parks. In what is only the first of the documentary’s many brutal scenes, “Blackfish” revisits the capture of several young calves at Penn Cove as they’re separated from their families. One of the divers who participated, John Crowe, reveals that it wasn’t only the animals who were traumatized as he forced the babies away from their mothers. The dive still sticks with the grizzled man decades later, and it has left its mark on Tilikum as well.

Before going to SeaWorld, Tilikum was held at Canadian park Sealand Of The Pacific, where he first attacked and killed someone. From there, he was taken to Orlando’s SeaWorld, where his trainers were misled about the incident at Sealand. Several incidents happened in Orlando, culminating in the death of his trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. The truth behind the previous incidents was hidden from the trainers at SeaWorld but the park’s former employees are eager to share their thoughts, particularly given Brancheau’s esteem within the community and SeaWorld’s eagerness to blame her for her own death. They tell horrific stories of both the poor conditions the orcas were held in and the abuse heaped on Tilikum by the dominant females he was penned in with at the park. At 12,000 pounds, Tilikum outweighs the average killer whale by 4,000 pounds, but he is still bloodied by other orcas, adding to the stress and pain of captivity.

With a straightforward, compelling approach, “Blackfish” effectively pleads its case against SeaWorld and similar parks. It succeeds not just because of the gripping footage and troubling stories of the spectators and trainers close to the incidents, but also because it consults experts in the field who offer insights into killer whales’ biology and psychology. The film demonstrates that orca are complex creatures with tremendous capacity for emotions and connections. These bonds are shown in the deep connections and relationships with the trainers, as well as in the family units present in the wild. As detail after detail about their capture and captivity emerges, “Blackfish” establishes that the emotional pain animals like Tilikum experience in environments like SeaWorld are the primary reason for the park violence. While the film shows an orchestrated, patient attack on a seal, we’re told that no killer whale has ever harmed a human being in the wild.

There are few movies that can change the way you see the world in 83 minutes. If “Blackfish” is seen by enough people, it has the power to affect attendance at SeaWorld. It’s tough to imagine anyone still being able to enjoy the park after seeing Tilikum’s drooping dorsal fin, scars and the loss of human life. [B+]

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14 Comments

  • Geneva Coats | December 27, 2013 12:00 PMReply

    I have yet to see any of the humaniacs here doing anything to protect, promote and preserve animals, including rescues of those wild animals who are sick or injured. Sea World's thousands of scientists do more for animals in one day than all the humaniacs in their combined lifetimes.
    And, guess who drives a $450,000 car around Orlando? A $450,000 Lamborghini Murciélago LP 670–4 SuperVeloce on I-4 was recently spotted there. It's always exciting to see a supercar on the road, too bad when you get closer you see "Free Tilikum" and "Blackfishmovie.com" decals all over it...
    Oh, but they don't exploit animals for money, do they? Yeah, right.

  • Jan pettifor | January 12, 2014 11:15 PM

    Before you make accusations Geneva Coats check your facts. The Lamborghini Murcielago SV is owned by myself not Blackfish. Tilikum was captured in 1983 off the coast of Iceland and is still 30 years later confined in a concrete swimming pool at Seaworld. Time for him to be transferred to a seapen.

  • mikethemovieguy | October 27, 2013 12:52 PMReply

    Watching this on CNN tonight.

  • markgil | August 24, 2013 7:15 PMReply

    “So many people insist they are against animal abuse, cruelty, suffering and the inhumane treatment of animals, yet they don’t understand they are actively engaging in and supporting egregious suffering, abuse, cruelty and inhumane treatment when they eat animals and their ‘by-products.’ If you are against cruelty, suffering and inhumane treatment, then you go vegan. It’s just that simple.” - Sarah Kiser youtube.com/watch?v=AtWO83pf3Mc

  • Michael S | July 17, 2013 10:18 PMReply

    Even the village idiot can see how cruel it is to have these intelligent, huge creatures swim in circles all day in what amounts to a bathtub while doing stupid tricks for our entertainment. We know they live with their families in the wild their entire life, but when born in captivity they are shipped off to other parks. There is ZERO reason to have orcas in captivity other than $$$$$$$$ It is sad that some of you people rationalize this horrible situation as a good thing. Who cares what good Sea World does for other things, they have done a horrible thing to these animals.

  • Michael Madsen | July 17, 2013 1:06 PMReply

    Blackfish is a movie full of half truth, propaganda and outright lies. I am the co-host of The Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast and I can assure you I have investigated all claims and concerns thoroughly. At best this movie is full of pseudo-science and half baked, ridiculous accusations that have no basis in the reality of the Orca programs currently in place at SeaWorld parks.

    SeaWorld fulfills a vital role in exposing our species, human beings, to the plight of wild Orca's and our ailing oceans in general.

    Ironically, most of the anti-SeaWorld rhetoric comes from people that probably wouldn't have the slightest clue about what an 'Orca' is without having grown to love and care about them through exposure to such programs as SeaWorld offers on a daily basis.

  • LeeAnn | August 13, 2013 10:55 PM

    You're disputing that captive orcas fulfill normal engaging lives in their artificial habitats? You're disputing they ARE the cash cow if Seaworlda? You're disputing that a matriarchal animal is ripped from its young to accommodate other parks? Sorry, you don't have the credibility you believe you have.
    .

  • Michael Madsen | July 17, 2013 2:20 PM

    Meant to post this here...

    I am easily Googleable, as is my program, The Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast, so any claim that I am a SeaWorld plant are easily dismissed and frankly a weak smokescreen.

    Take any of the so called facts peppering the movie and do the research for yourself. All the information is easily found on search engines and any fourth grader could then see that this movie was full of misinformation deliberately slanted to support the creator's agenda.

    I am available for any media interviews or discussions.

  • Sea World Has A Lot To Lose | July 17, 2013 2:11 PM

    The multi-million dollar corporation that is Sea World -- who refused to participate in teh documentary and defend themselves -- has a lot to lose. It's not like they would try and combat this at all with internet plants, right?

  • Lisa Taylor | July 17, 2013 3:35 AMReply

    So is Blackfish playing at cinemas or where.
    I saw a lil clip on face book & have wathed
    The Cove but want to see Blackfish.

  • The Animal Rights have a lot to lose as well | August 2, 2013 11:08 PM

    Same too, I find it odd that it repeats the same animal rights garbage as well. Also, it's pretty interesting how you dismiss her as a "Plant". Trying to deflect your Animal Rights bias so you dismiss her as well?

  • Eric | July 17, 2013 3:57 PM

    Sorry but SeaWorld was too busy rescuing and releasing over 22,000 animals. SeaWorld does far greater good than these people give credit.

  • Michael Madsen | July 17, 2013 2:19 PM

    I am easily Googleable, as is my program, The Unofficial SeaWorld Podcast, so any claim that I am a SeaWorld plant are easily dismissed and frankly a weak smokescreen.

    Take any of the so called facts peppering the movie and do the research for yourself. All the information is easily found on search engines and any fourth grader could then see that this movie was full of misinformation deliberately slanted to support the creator's agenda.

    I am available for any media interviews or discussions.

  • Hathem Matthews | July 17, 2013 1:13 AMReply

    Black fish is a manipulative movie which break you down with all bad things that happened 30+ years ago, and then tries to make sea world the bad guy without sharing their side of the story. None the less even if sea world agrees to the release of these animals, what about Iceland if they refuse to take any captives to sea-pens, it was hell getting keiko there without a hard time. Good luck on that, if it ever happens.

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