“Blackfish” is a 2013 documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. The film achieved great success at the Sundance Film Festival, and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures and CNN films for wider release.
The film is an incredibly powerful look at orca whales in captivity. Centralized around SeaWorld, the film is controversial from the very beginning. With emotionally wrenching images, the story focuses on how these highly intelligent and sentient mammals are mistreated and are driven to aggressive behaviors that put themselves and people in danger.
Without spoiling the film, “Blackfish” features interviews with multiple former trainers at SeaWorld, and recalls accounts of incidents with orcas and the living conditions of the whales (which are actually dolphins, fun fact of the film).
“Blackfish” puts SeaWorld on blast, and the insane amount of popularity and social media trends “Blackfish” has created has put SeaWorld in an awful light.
SeaWorld is dealing with a major crisis. Killer whales held in captivity are brilliantly portrayed in the film as being amazing and spectacular creatures driven to a psychosis as a result of their behavioral training, being separated from families, forced into undesirable living conditions, and beaten up by other whales.
Upon watching the film, people are outraged with the concept of whales being held in captivity for profit and entertainment purposes.
Dozens of petitions are floating around and the social media buzz is nothing short of insane. SeaWorld is under serious scrutiny for what brings them the most profit- their killer whales. As a public relations major, I shook my head watching the film. Not only is SeaWorld now forced to make some sort of decision regarding the orca whales they hold in captivity, but the film exposed some major public relations mistakes.
- When SeaWorld initially captured whales for its parks, they went to the coasts of Washington State. The capture was very violent, and calves that died during the process had their bellies slit, were filled with rocks, and weighted with anchors to keep them from surfacing and being exposed to the public. SeaWorld was eventually banned from returning to Washington and somehow kept this all under wraps. Problem: The truth will always surface.
- Former SeaWorld trainers state that no background in marine biology or a related field was required for them to become a trainer. Problem: SeaWorld’s expertise and credibility is now in question.
- SeaWorld refused to cooperate for the film. Problem: Thanks for the transparency, SeaWorld.
- SeaWorld is called out for how it handled previous incidents with trainers. Incidents with trainers are often said to be caused by “trainer error.” Problem: “Blackfish” says that SeaWorld referred to deaths as “drowning” which isn’t true. These deaths occurred as a result of the whales holding them under water and thrashing them to death. Also, blaming incidents on trainers causes serious distrust between the organization and its employees.
- Trainer Dawn Brancheau was blamed for her own death. Statements put the blame on the trainer, saying that her ponytail is what caused Tilicum to grab a hold of her. Problem: A former executive made national news for saying this, and the current SeaWorld execs at the time were not proactive and disassociating themselves from that individual.
- “Blackfish” calls SeaWorld out for being untruthful. Orcas have longer life-spans in the wild, but SeaWorld says they don’t. Collapsed dorsal fins are seen in nearly all male orcas in captivity, yet only occur in 1-5 percent living in the wild. SeaWorld claims this condition is common and natural. Problem: Nobody likes a liar. And these lies are captured on film- whoops.
SeaWorld is in some deep water with this one. Had this film premiered on CNN in the beginning of the summer, I can only imagine what it would have done to their tourist season business. I’m curious to see the aftermath of this film and the effects it has on their revenue as well as pressure to remove their orcas. This is one that I don’t think will go away- I believe this film is powerful enough to evoke some sort of change.
I highly encourage you to watch the film. It’s incredibly powerful. I’ll be continuing my discussion on “Blackfish” next week, as I move towards the topic of the next steps for SeaWorld and discuss their response to the film.