Are you an animal lover? Do you feel like getting angry? Then watch Blackfish. It is a documentary about orcas, also known as killer whales, and their history of violence while in captivity. As anyone who’s seen a show with orcas at a sea park can attest, killer whales are actually quite friendly. Trainers have domesticated whales to the point where they are able to perform fantastic stunts on command. These types of shows have become popular throughout the world, particularly in the last thirty-five years. During that time there has been a significant number of these trainers that have been injured or even killed by whales.
The films central thesis seems to be that it’s captivity that causes whales to become violent. It works backwards from an incident at a Seaworld in 2010 where one of their senior trainers was killed during a live performance. The whale involved, named Tillikum, is also linked to 2 other human deaths during his career as a performer. In addition, there are several other incidents the film examines where whales seem to be at fault for a trainer death or injury. Seaworld attribute’s these occurrences to trainer error, but some disagree.
Questions about the ethics of keeping animals in captivity are not new. Circuses are routinely criticized for their treatment of elephants, and essentially that’s what Seaworld is, an aquatic circus. What is most damning in this film is the way Seaworld keeps it’s trainers in the dark. According to former trainers they obscure the facts of these violent incidents for their employees. In recent years OSHA has made it so trainers are no longer allowed to be in the water with the whales.
Blackfish is a powerful film that is already making an impact on the business of killer whale shows. Seaworld’s stock is down more than 25% in the six months since the films release, despite a soaring overall stock market during the same time period. It is at times hard to watch, and it can be a little over zealous. However, it does put forth an interesting argument.