Film defending orca Tilikum sends SeaWorld into a fury

Jul 23, 2013

Marine park company issues angry response as killer whale film 'Blackfish' is released - video

A DOCUMENTARY about controversial killer whale Tilikum, implicated in the deaths of three people at the the theme parks where he has been kept in captivity, is to be released in Europe.


Blackfish, by director Gabriela Cowperthwaite, has already caused a storm in the US over its depiction of the way orcas are treated - and the furious reaction of US marine park company SeaWorld to the film.

The movie gained good reviews on the festival circuit earlier this year and went on release in America last weekend. Now Hollywood Reporter says a "slew" of deals have been signed that will see the film distributed across Europe.

But that will not please the owners of SeaWorld Orlando, the park where Tilikum has lived since 1992 and where his trainer Dawn Brancheau was killed in 2010.

Before the US release they wrote to film critics across the US denouncing it as "shamefully dishonest, deliberately misleading, and scientifically inaccurate".

Their letter carried a point-by-point breakdown of many of the film's claims, denying that it stocked its parks with wild orcas, broke up whale families, had tried to spin the story of Brancheau's death and rebutting the idea that Tilikum had been driven crazy by his years in captivity after being captured off the coast of Iceland in 1983.

"SeaWorld is proud of its legacy of supporting marine science and environmental awareness in general and the cause of killer whales in particular," said the company.

"Our point in sending you this note is to make you aware that what Blackfish presents as unvarnished reality is anything but," it concludes.

However, critics who have seen the film have not been kind to the aqua-park. Website Gawker notes that although Cowperthwaite claims she approached the film with an open mind, the result is "damning enough that it reads like animal liberation propaganda".

Hollywood Reporter reviewed the film at the Sundance Festival and described it as "trenchant, often harrowing stuff" and "a damning indictment of the SeaWorld theme park franchise".

The New York Times describes it as a "delicately lacerating documentary" while Rolling Stone says: "This eye-opening doc contains sights and sounds that are stuff of nightmares... Forget The Conjuring, Blackfish may be the scariest movie around."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Disqus - noscript

I understand Sea World uses some of its money to help sea life that gets injured in the ocean but I think everyone can agree that these whales are being done a disservice being forced to live in a pool and without all their family members as they would in the wild. In the case of the killer whales, the end of helping other sea life by Sea World does not justify putting killer wales in pools to entertain people and bring money in and become possibly psychotic. These whales normally live in the ocean with their families all their lives. We all know how big the ocean is compared to a pool. Dawn's death was a wake-up call. They are not pets. They deserve more respect. Heck even a cordoned off preserve that is the size of a lake is better than a swimming pool. This film is needed. You can help wildlife in a humane way and the killer whales need to be respected and cared about and appreciated in the ocean. It is obvious that their lifespans are cut short living in these pools while other animals in well run preserves, zoos, etc. generally live longer lives in captivity. The whole point of well run zoos, etc. is to get people to appreciate these creatures and to want to save them in the wild for people who will probably never see these creatures in the wild. People will have different opinions about any animal in captivity and there are pros and cons to both sides. But in the case of the killer whales, they are not doing well in captivity. The proof is there. The point of this film is NOT to shut down Sea World. They do a lot of good things to help injured wildlife but, in the case of killer whales, unless you have an oceanic preserve, we would be better to appreciate them in the wild because they are suffering in captivity. The story of T i l i k u m is proof positive that he would have done better in the ocean with his family and creatures this large and wild should not be treated like pets or you will have an enraged, frustrated wild animal take it out on another human like he did with Dawn when they are not able to do the things they normally would have done in the wild, like swim forever in an ocean for miles and miles and miles and miles and miles and hunt and hunt and swim and hunt for miles and interact with their family. These captive whales are certainly not at fault when they kill someone and I know people want to think they can tame a wild animal and be their best friend when they really shouldn't and are trying to make a wild animal be something they can never be. Tame. But the best way to treat a wild animal is to give it the respect and awe and space that it deserves and conserve them by going on a whale watching tour or just show films of them in the wild and people will appreciate them and want to preserve them. I think people will get over the fact that they can't see a poor whale do flips in a pool when they understand what this whale's life should be like in the wild and in the vast oceans.

I saw Blackfish this week and found this to be a very tragic story of capitalism overriding reason and compassion. How dare the management executives of these parks blame these deaths and injuries on the trainers. The Orcas are not to blame either. The documentary highlighted evidence to show that management had hushed up numerous serious incidents and deaths with Tilikum and other Orcas. We do not need to ask why. The merchandising alone must be worth millions worldwide. This practice of keeping Orcas in goldfish bowls in order to perform tricks has to end. They are hunter/killers with very complex dialects and close knit relationships, and no amount of whistle tooting and training will eradicate instinct or replace familial bonds.