Friday, February 24, 2017

Blackfish: Never Capture What You Can't Control


            The documentary Blackfish, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite is a film about the darker side of the wildlife amusement park, SeaWorld. The 2013 documentary is mainly based around the whale Tilikum, but touches on other whales in captivity who have harmed trainers. The film reveals news stories, former trainer interviews, and former management testimonies. Blackfish was shown at the Sundance film festival, but was later picked up by CNN Films and Magnolia Productions to present the message to a larger audience. It was later nominated for the BAFTA Award for Best Documentary. Cowperthwaite was prompted to start this film in 2010 after the latest death of trainer, Dawn Broncheau. Cowperthwaite and her colleagues knew there was a serious issue since this was the third death by an orca in captivity, and wanted to find out why. The creators of the film wanted to shed the light on the behind the scenes part of this park, and many of the other parks around the world. The goal of the production team was to start a large scale investigation that would hopefully put an end to the captivity of killer whales. With the general public as the intended audience, the film wanted to highlight the reality of what happens to these animals in captivity. This call to action would cause families to reconsider their trips to SeaWorld, which would prevent them from adding money to the franchise ( Part of the film discusses the capturing process of calves from their mothers starting in the 1970’s from Washington and Iceland. Showing video footage of them dropping the nets, throwing explosives, and ultimately kidnapping the orca calves was heartbreaking, adding to the pathos of this film. Not only were the baby whales taken from their mothers and pods, but they were then placed into tanks with whales they did not know from all over the world. Before the film gets into the story of Tilikum at SeaWorld, they show where he started in Canada at Sealand. This is where the first death by a captive killer whale took place. Fast forward through the film, the story of Dawn Brancheau was a large topic for the documentary. Since she passed only three years before the release of the movie, it was apparent that Cowperthwaite knew it was important to expand on her case. At SeaWorld Orlando, she and Tilikum were performing the Dine with Shamu show, which tragically was her last performance. After that case, OSHA and SeaWorld went back and forth, finalizing that no trainers were allowed in the water with the whales, and that there must be a barrier between the two ( Throughout the film you are introduced to many professionals, such as whale researchers, neuroscientists, and former SeaWorld trainers who worked with the animals, whose point of view shaped the argument of the documentary. Their interviews in between the video footage added to the ethos of the film, with the addition of their credentials under their names.
Overall I really enjoyed the film, and thought it brought about many issues that as park-goers, you do not know about. Since seeing this documentary I have refrained from going back to the SeaWorld parks, and thus fulfilling Cowperthwaite’s goal to prevent people from attending the shows. I would give the film four out of five stars because I found it very interesting and thought provoking. However, I am hesitant to give it the full five stars because after further research, the former trainers admitted that they did not fully agree to how their interviews were used. This made it somewhat suspicious as to how Blackfish was edited to create the desired film (



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