In Depth

Film defending orca Tilikum sends SeaWorld into a fury

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."

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