Blackfish is a documentary directed and produced by Gabriela Cowperthwaite that follows the story of Tilikum, Sea World’s orca, who was involved in the deaths of 3 people. It highlights the cruelty that orcas face in captivity and the dangers that it puts the people that work with them in. This is done through interviews and video clips that appeal to ethos, logos, and pathos; relying heavily on pathos.
This documentary was prompted by the harmful effects of orcas being held in captivity, both for the whales and for the trainers. Cowperthwaite was initially inspired to create the film when she read this article.
The intended audience for this film is the general public, and anyone who may support Sea World by visiting the park. It was successful in reaching this audience, as after the documentary came out, the number of visitors to Sea World drastically fell.
The claim of the film is that keeping orca whales in captivity can be harmful to both the whales and the trainers. This claim is supported through the use of ethos, logos, and especially pathos.
Ethos is established by interviewing former Sea World trainers. These trainers add credibility to the film because they had first-hand experience with the orcas and how things are run at Sea World. They know arguably better than anyone what the living conditions of the orcas were and what affect this had on them. The film also interviewed several whale researchers who are experts on orcas. These researchers establish authority for the film because they can give a scientific perspective of the effects on the orca whales in captivity.
There were a few facts and statistics that added logos to the film. For example, the documentary shows many clips of Sea World workers saying that orcas live only 25-35 years in the wild, and much longer in captivity. Howard Garret, an orca researcher, states that this is false and that orcas live equivalent to human lifespans in the wild. This fact that orcas actually live longer in the wild creates a logical argument that strengthens the claim that captivity is harmful for orcas. The contradictory fact that Sea World gives portrays them as untrustworthy and harms their credibility. Another fact they give is about dorsal fin collapse. According to Jeff Ventre, “Dorsal collapse happens in less than 1% of wild killer whales; we know this. All the captive whales, 100%, have collapsed dorsal fins.” This fact again helps to strengthen their claim by adding logical appeal.
The appeal that is used the most by far in the film is pathos. Throughout the entire documentary Blackfish appeals to viewers’ emotions through heartfelt interviews, tragic stories, and shocking scenes. The trainers firsthand accounts appeal to people’s sense of empathy though the amount of emotion they convey. One of the most emotional interviews was with John Crowe, a man who captured orcas. Crowe, a very masculine old man with tattoos and a long beard, gets emotional as he talks about his experience capturing a baby orca. He compares it to “kidnapping a little kid away from a mother.” Seeing such manly guy talk about crying over a whale definitely appeals to pathos and invokes sadness in the audience. There are several stories of people being harmed or killed by orcas held in captivity. These events are made to seem even more tragic by adding moving music, shocking clips, and people crying or getting emotional. Some of the most powerful clips include a mother orca crying after its baby was taken away, a whale bleeding out in the water after being attacked by another whale, and a girl being dragged into the water by an orca and coming out with a U shaped arm. All of these clips incite sadness and even anger in the audience which makes them more likely to believe the claim.
The documentary is told through interviews with several people who have experience with or who are knowledgeable about orcas and incidents that happened with them. This includes former Sea World trainers, whale researchers, and people who knew the victims of orca aggression.
Overall, I think Blackfish does a successful job of depicting the capture and containment of orcas as cruel and harmful. The amount of emotional appeal works to persuade the audience, and myself, to boycott Sea World until changes are made. Because the documentary establishes credibility, employs logical arguments, and thoroughly tugs at the audience’s heartstrings, I am giving it a 5 out of 5 nacho rating.