The movie Blackfish is taking a major hit in the credibility department now that former trainers involved in its making are speaking out against its misrepresentations. That, plus the truth about footage used in extremely misleading ways and the revelation that OSHA investigator Lara Padgett palled around with the movie's creators at premieres around the country, is giving it a big black eye and making it more apparent why it was snubbed by the Academy Awards.
Still, the movie does show some truths, like the brutal capture methods back in the 1980s and the abuse suffered by Tilikum before he came to SeaWorld Orlando. Much of the negative information has little to nothing to do with SeaWorld, despite the movie's obvious slant toward demonizing the park.
If you're seen Blackfish, you may be among the sheep herd of people who've vowed never to visit the park. Ironically, most of those people weren't planning to visit in the first place, making it easy to join the "boycott."
If you really did intend to visit before watching a movie with a major bias, I have just one small question: How can you judge SeaWorld Orlando if you've never seen it for yourself? Sure, the movie says, "Listen to our side of the story, and whatever you do, don't go to the park!" That's because its creators know that you'd instantly see a lot of the discrepancies if you saw things with your own eyes. They apparently don't want you to make your own judgment based on seeing both sides.
One hallmark of propaganda is that it says, "(Insert thing being attacked here) is awful! It's terrible! We'll tell you why, and whatever you do, be sure to avoid it." On the flip side, someone who is confident in their information, or who wants people to form their own opinions, encourages others to explore both sides. So why does Blackfish want everyone to stay away from SeaWorld and just take the movie's word on the "facts?"
I'm a long-time annual pass holder to the park, but I watched the movie to see if it would have any new information that might change my opinion. I'm a former PETA member and an active animal advocate, so I wanted to see if it contained any substantial information that might change my view of orcas in captivity.
I already acknowledge that captive habitats are not nearly as good as their native habitat, but that's true of pretty much any animals under human care. As long as they're enriched, and no more get captured from the wild, I'm okay with captivity, especially when it supports rescue and rehabilitation via admission tickets.
I didn't learn anything new, other than some interesting tactics to mislead viewers. If you saw the movie, you owe it to yourself to visit SeaWorld Orlando before you form your final opinion, and I suggest you do the following when you're there:
1) Talk to as many trainers and educators as possible. The trainers often hang around after the animal shows, and they're more than happy to talk to the public. Ask them about the care and training methods and use your own common sense to see if you believe they're telling the truth. Your gut will tell you whether they're spouting a company line or whether they're genuinely passionate about what they do and speaking from the heart.
2) Visit all the animal habitats and shows. The trainers can tell you one thing, but the proof is in actually seeing it in action before your eyes. Watch the orcas and dolphins perform and see if you think they're forced, starved, or otherwise abused (hint: they're not; the show might even be cancelled if they just don't feel like performing that day). Observe the animals in all the habitats, looking for obsessive behaviors like pacing that indicate they're not being enriched properly. See if they're clean, and watch how the animals interact with their caretakers. Are they comfortable with humans? You'll learn a lot by spending a whole day observing the shows and interactions.
3) Take a behind the scenes tour. Sure, the park could show you one "face" on the public side of things and hide the bad things behind closed doors. I highly doubt that's going on, since it offers backstage tours to pretty much every area, from Wild Arctic to Antarctica to the rescue and rehab facilities. If you really want to delve deep behind the scenes, sign up for the Marine Mammal Keeper experience. It takes all day, and you'll get your hands dirty, but you'll have more than enough knowledge and experience to judge things for yourself.
I also recommend taking a tour that goes through the rescue and rehab area. The movie barely mentions SeaWorld's amazing rescue work and the fact that over 20,000 animals have been saved. Sure, it's a corporation that's ultimately out to make a profit, but it also funnels millions into directly helping animals. If you don't want to take a tour, you'll still see turtles, manatees, and pilot whales in the public areas of the park.
In the meantime, you can hear about a typical rescue/rehab from Jon Peterson by clicking the video at the top of this article.
You may still feel that captivity is wrong after your visit, and you'll be able to explain why with credibility. Instead of regurgitating words that someone else puts in your mouth, you'll be able to express your reasons based on your own observations. That's what credibility and thinking for yourself, vs. joining a herd of sheeple, is all about.