Columnist Sarah Harris is back with her review of Blackfisk, the controversial documentary revealing the true story behind the death of Dawn Brancheau at Seaworld, Orlando.
THE PREMISE: A DOCUMENTARY THAT SNEAKS BEHIND THE SCENES AT ONE OF THE WORLD’S BIGGEST MARINE MAMMAL PARKS, SEAWORLD ORLANDO, AND LOOKS DEEPER INTO A CONTROVERSIAL DEATH OF ONE OF ITS WORKERS, DAWN BRANCHEAU. THE DOCUMENTARY UNFOLDS TO DISCOVER THE CAUSES OF ‘’ACCIDENTS’’ INVOLVING MARINE WORKERS, AND THEIR LINK WITH THE MISTREATMENT OF INTELLIGENT ANIMALS IN CAPTIVITY.
DIRECTED BY: GABRIELA COWPERTHWAITE
PRODUCED BY: GABRIELA COWPERTHWAITE, MANUEL V. OTEYZA
The main purpose of the Blackfish documentary becomes clear quite quickly: the film aims to lift the lid on the animal captivity industry, and to show viewers what really happens when you capture a giant wild animal, like a killer whale, drag it away from its family and force it to live in a tiny concrete box – and it doesn’t do so lightly. We are elicited into believing that animals have emotions – something we all know but have perhaps forgotten. The film shows recent footage of killer whales that seemingly have had enough of human behaviour and are taking action. The moral of the story? Never capture what you can’t control.
Blackfish (2013) film poster. Source: IMDB
This might have been the most unnerving part of all: they’re smart. Not just smart enough to learn tricks, an assumption made by marine parks and trainers that Blackfish proves, scene by scene, to be deadly. The documentary reveals recent and alarmingly-organized attacks on marine workers that show animals in captivity to be more than just performers for human entertainment.
The film primarily follows SeaWorld’s most famous orca, Tilikum, who was central in the violent and unexpected deaths of his three trainers, Keltie Byrne, Daniel P. Dukes and Dawn Brancheau. We see how Tilikum is kept in a small tank overnight, not even big enough for the 22-foot titan to swim in. The film also shows interviews with the men catching orcas for SeaWorld for a living, who have been “disturbed” by how Seaworld separate young orcas from their mothers in order to train them in captivity. Perhaps most importantly, Blackfish captures former senior killer-whale trainer of SeaWorld, John Hargrove, voicing the opinion that after his long career in the marine park industry he feels that the animals at SeaWorld are not suited to the environment of captivity.
Dawn Brancheau and Tilikum during a performance. Source: Barcroft Media
In spite of all of this, many of SeaWorld’s employees deny that the film shows SeaWorld for its true colours. Following the film’s release, vice president for zoological operations for SeaWorld San Diego, Michael Scarpuzzi, claims that Blackfish’s filmmakers used Brancheau’s death not to inform others, but rather “to sensationalise” a tragic story. Scarpuzzi also draws attention to the fact that the filmmakers had focused on the deaths of the trainers, but failed to mention that SeaWorld had implemented changes to how they were caring for the animals in light of these deaths.
Sensationalism or not, Blackfish has undoubtedly had a massive effect on the business of animal captivity. Since the release of the documentary, SeaWorld has lost $16 million with their stocks dropping by 50%. Blackfish gives an in-depth view of the industry of animal captivity and the dangers that come with it…and it is well worth a watch.
To sign the petition against the captivity of orcas in SeaWorld, click here.