Killer Whales do not kill people in captivity, it’s just that sometimes the trainers make mistakes. So goes the SeaWorld party line. It’s pretty much the party line of any big corporation, blame it on human error, not the thing that makes them billions of dollars in profits. However, by the end of, hell, part of the way through, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s documentary, Blackfish, you’ll soon be seeing through the party line and the horrific truth will shine through as bright as the sun reflecting off the rippling water at SeaWorld’s pools.
Whilst the subject may bring to mind Louie Psihoyos’ The Cove, Blackfish has a more conventional approach, stitching together interviews with former SeaWorld trainers and some truly disturbing archival footage. Not that by conventional, we mean any less controversial.
Cowperthwaite focusses on one Killer Whale in particular, Blackfish is essentially the story of Tilikum, from his capture, though his abuse and neglect to his deliberate killing of several people. It’s also an story of how emotional and family focussed these beautiful creatures are, and how they behave when ripped apart from their strong family bonds.
SeaWord purchased Tilikum in January 1992, after the Killer Whale deliberately dragged his trainer, Keltie Byrne under water, repeatedly, drowning her at Sealand of the Pacific, which closed operations shortly after. Despite knowing his history, SeaWorld needed a adult male to be able to breed, and breed they have with Tilikum having sired 21 calves.
Whilst Blackfish is decidedly one sided, it does have the decency to include interview segments with a former trainer who has no issues with Killer Whales being held in captivity. The most damming part of the entire documentary is SeaWorld’s refusal to be part of the discussion.
Like many of these call to action type documentaries, you can’t really call Blackfish a pleasure to watch. It’s an easily digested documentary, and one that will hopefully spark action or debate, and is essential viewing for basically all of humanity, though keep in mind it’s suitable for mature audiences 16 years and over, so keep the little ones away!
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