It’s difficult to envision a more damning 83 minutes of celluloid for SeaWorld than Blackfish. Utilizing a host of ex-trainers, whistleblowers, and raw footage, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite has assembled quite the case for negligence against SeaWorld in the deaths of trainers and inhumane treatment of whales for at least the past twenty years. The case of SeaWorld vs. OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) rages on after a three-judge panel recently ruled that trainers at SeaWorld must have a barrier between themselves and the whales.
Blackfish goes all the way back to the late 1970’s and the disturbing capture of SeaWorld’s pride and joy, Tilikum. The whale would go on to have occasional violent outbursts, including the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. There is an amazing amount of footage contained in Blackfish that would seem to contradict SeaWorld’s company line regarding the incidents, which is usually that the trainer was at fault and the whales are fine. Even incidents that don’t result in death (take the footage of Ken Peters’ harrowing ordeal with Kasatka, in which he was repeatedly pulled under water and likely only survived due to his scuba diving training) show a pattern of negligence. Perhaps most concerning moving forward is that Tilikum’s sperm has been used to breed nearly all of SeaWorld’s performance orcas.
Parallel stories include the questionable practices for housing the whales during non-show times. Most are kept together in a pool that is much too small, oftentimes in pitch blackness. Whales exhibit very human-like emotions and it’s the consensus opinion of those interviewed that the whales’ living conditions are causing them to be frustrated and ultimately lash out. It should be noted that SeaWorld declined to participate in any capacity with the film. Cowperthwaite takes a very direct, simple approach and lets the people who worked at SeaWorld and the footage do the talking. All of it is incriminating and often irrefutable testimony. Taken in sum, Blackfish is a punishing indictment of a multi-million dollar industry and one of the finest documentaries of the year.
Studio: Magnolia Pictures
Length: 83 Minutes
Rating: PG-13 for mature thematic elements including disturbing and violent images.
Theatrical Release: July 19, 2013 (NY/LA)
Directed by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite
Written by: Gabriela Cowperthwaite & Eli B. Despres
Cast: Suzanne Allee, Jeff Andrews, Kim Ashdown, Ken Balcomb, Samantha Berg