Blackfish Documentary: Truth And Tragedy

    October 24, 2013
    Ellisha Rader Mannering
    Comments are off for this post.

If you have ever been to SeaWorld you may have been impressed by the way trainers were able to handle the huge Killer Whales that put on amazing shows every day. But have you ever stopped to think about what goes on behind the scenes or how those whales got to the SeaWorld park to begin with? Most of us would like to think the whales in captivity were orphans or maybe once injured and needed the interference and care of humans in order to survive. We also hope they are as happy behind the scenes as they appear to be during the shows.

According to the documentary Blackfish, this isn’t the case. The documentary was written by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. Cowperthwaite says that she decided to make the documentary after she had heard about the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau.

“I remember fragments of the story of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau’s killing in 2010 — something about a ponytail, something about her slipping and falling, something about how this almost never ever happens because in these parks, the animals are happy and the trainers are safe.” But something wasn’t right. I remember asking someone why an orca — a highly intelligent animal — would attack its trainer or essentially “bite the hand that feeds it,” she said.

Her questions eventually led her to do some investigating and get both sides of the story, including SeaWorld’s. But, SeaWorld isn’t happy about the documentary and claims that it gives false information about the park and ignores the benefits of conservation and research that SeaWorld provides.

Cowperthwaite says she was nervous about SeaWorld’s reaction to the documentary but felt compelled to reveal the truth about the park.

“SeaWorld is a $2 billion a year entity, and they’ll do anything to protect their greatest asset: Shamu. But as I moved forward I knew that in telling this story in an honest and fact-driven way, I was telling the truth. It sounds cliché but it’s really that simple. At some point you’re simply compelled, in spite of yourself, to tell a story that needs to be told no matter how scared you are of an entity that could squash you.”

The documentary Blackfish aired Thursday night on CNN.

Image from Wikimedia Commons.

  • http://blackfishdocumentarytruthandtragedy helga klynn

    Shocking and brutal is the way to describe the entertainment provided by SeaWorld. Much more awareness needs to be distributed in order to put these kind of companies out of business. Public amusement should not be at the cost of any animal’s natural way of being. You cannot sugarcoat the underlying tortures and stress of any free bird, mammal, reptile, or fish when used to perform for us. Set the magnificent Orcas free. Shame on Sea World, shame on us for allowing practices of this kind to still flourish in our world.
    Thank you for the documentary.

  • Michelle A. Clark

    The documentary film, Blackfish, has touched me deeply. I have two young boys who will never go the circus atmosphere of Seaworld. If there is any movement to remove Tilikum from captivity, and if there is any way I can help, I want to be a part of this. My heart is breaking for this magnificent mammal.

  • Tina

    I took my girls to SeaWorld several times when they were young. Shameful the lies we were told during our visits. These beautiful creatures don’t deserve the abuse they are forced to endure. I hope lots of people tuned in last night to see the film for free. I saw it in a theater and cried. It’s amazing more trainers haven’t been hurt or killed. How would they like to spend their entire lives in a bathtub? Disgusting.

  • pilarsolar

    Surprisingly it has been my children aged 23, and 25 who have not wanted to visit zoo’s, safari parks, circuses, or waterparks. They have been educated from a young age that the animals suffer in capacity and that they should not be held for human’s entertainment. Being a baby boomer, I grew up at a time when all these events were made for me. We believed everything these people told us: that they were better off in captivity, that they were treated humanely, and that they were happy in their work. With more and more education and documentaries like these, these institutions will become dinosaurs. I think that is already happening with zoos and circuses. This show was shocking to watch. Not only from the standpoint of the killings of the trainers but how the whale’s babies were ripped from the mother’s and how they grieved.

  • Gary McPherran

    I think that this is just horrible. I will never visit these parks again. I will educate my grandchildren correctly. These highly intelligent beings should not need to suffer so for our amusement and for the almighty $. Shame on us.

  • Karen Desserich

    This was an excellent documentary about what is really going on at Sea World. Heart wrenching to watch but finally someone has brought the truth out. To listen to that pathetic buffoon Jack Hanna defend Sea World and talk about how this was a wonderful way for our children to see these animals………..My God!! I can only hope that something will now be done for these beautiful Orcas. This documentary should open the “floodgates” on this kind of animal cruelty.

  • Marg Lachmuth

    Although I found this documentary sad, it also made me very angry listening to the jerk (Jack Hanna aka Crocodile Dundee remake) who felt the whales were treated well and that Sea World was doing a great thing as having captive whales allows thousands of people to see them who otherwise wouldn’t. What are we really teaching our children when we take them to these horrific places? How to be cruel to other species just because we can???

    My daughter has a masters in Marine Zoology, and her studies focused on the Orca – most of what the Sea World reps had to say was absolutely false – I felt bad for the trainers who were brainwashed and have had to live with the consequences (or not) of the cruelty/torture they participated in.

    My question is – will this documentary open the eyes of the general public, or will we as humans continue to believe Sea World and Jack Hanna, and think there is nothing wrong with harming this beautiful species? Or will they watch the grieving females whose babies have been taken away and realize that they too have ‘feelings’. After all, we ARE all one…

  • http://marilyncastilaw.com marilyn castilaw

    To hear Jack Hannah parrot the old party line ” the money brings conservation” is an old paradigm – the new conscious mind and heart knows we are not separate but connected. An Orca in Seawold is not a natural Orca at all. It is a slave. If a family can make its way to Florida – it can make its way to Washington and see them in the wild as they are. Hunters. Predators and regal sentient beings. So disrespectful to watch the Seaworld or any other ‘ Orca Trainer’ foolishly prance and dance around these evolved beings. Time for humanity to wake up. Earth is our home and we are all connected.

  • steve young

    i used to really like jack hannah…and respect him, but on the cnn response to the showing of this film, he just sounded like a shill for big money corporations…too bad…there was much more involved in this film that met the eye…it was deep on many levels, tragic, and human and humane, in the showing of the lack of humaneness involved in putting on a ‘good’ show…what incredible creatures, and how heart wrenching when the calf was taken from the mom, again when the trainer was killed…and all jack hannah could say was…out of sight out of mind…good one jack…

  • Mary Hoffmeister

    Thank you for this documentary even though it was so difficult to watch. Tears were shed and these these beautiful, highly intelligent animals should never ever be held in captivity for human pleasure. It was a real learning experience and hopefully, humans will see how in humane it is to abuse them. We can enjoy seeing them in their environment or on TV. I learned so much about them and was so deeply touched by this film!

  • Gina

    I was very upset to find out how these animals are kept. I always suspected. I remember going to watch the show and feeling sad about these creatures just performing all day. I did ask someone there why his fin was bent and they told me that was a regular occurance in nature so I’m upset that is not the case.
    We should start legislation that will free them into the wild and ban capturing these beautiful intelligent animals and separating mothers from their babies and ban inseminating any new offspring.

  • Cari l Brown

    I watched CNN’s report on the documentary “Blackfish” which prompted me to research more on the subject. I also found Frontline had produced a very similar report. The main difference was about the featured Orca, one about Tillikum and the other about Keiko but both confronting the ugly truth about the industry, the money, the lies and the ignorance of the consumers. I have always been a firm believer that animals are not subservient to humans and they are all intelligent and communicate among themselves, teach their young and in some cases have knowledge of healing plants or rudimentary medicine. I strongly hope and pray that one day none of these “theme” parks & zoos will not exist. It pains me to know we take beautiful creatures and enslave them for lookie-loos in turn providing monetary gains in epic proportions to giant corporations essentially financing worldwide expansion of more horrendous theme parks. This is another instance where I am ashamed to refer to myself as a human. In the animal world they have the decency to kill their pray before devouring its life. Humans showcase it’s life justify its death then sell front row tickets, a cute stuffed animal then strip it, cook it & serve warm over rice or noodles add a nice glass of chilled wine to wash it all down. It has to stop before humanity can begin again.

  • Linda

    There is strength in numbers. Together we can end this tragedy. Lets shut Sea World down.

  • Karen

    I am appalled and disgusted with Sea World pretending to be a family oriented organization. I will never take my children there again. They won’t get another penny of my money. If anyone out there organizes to petition against them and work toward shutting them down, THEY will get my support and money!

  • Judy Garrett

    I cannot get the image of the grieving mother orca after her baby was taken from her! It is haunting me and will forever break my heart. Enough. Creatures great and small belong in their natural habitat. I will never visit Sea world.

  • Michelle

    I recently watched the the documentary Blackfish. I was utterly shocked and apalled at what I saw.Most notably the footage from the early 70’s of the “whale hunts”.Being a Northwest Native my whole live, and having resided in the Puget Sound for well over 25 years this was still, sadly, news to me. I grew up watching new reports of the J or K pod returning to The Sound. How local scientists would monitor the pods from safe/healthy distances and yet still learn a great many things about them. People who call this area home have learned to have a healhty respect for these wonderful creatures. Yes i understand that the average family does not live here as I do and can not enjoy the whale migration. However as one person said earlier. “if you can afford to fly a family to Florida/San Diego, pay for food lodging etc….then you can go to WA state instead” by doing this you see the animals in their natural habitat. The way it SHOULD be. Sadly it seems that more people want a “guaranteed” up close and personal experience with the Orcas.. Hopefully this documentary will get the a thoughtful conversation going though it seems to have already started.

  • Kellyannhenry

    TRAGIC JUST TO MAKE A BUCK. I feel so sorry for these beautiful intelligent animals I can’t believe they ripp the babies away from their mother . I’m a mother and I can’t even fathom the idea or thought . I’ve never been to Seaworld and I will NEVER take my kids to see Orcas being mistreated ….

  • Tamara Pride

    I am so grateful to have seen this film. I too went to Seaworld a number of years ago and felt sad and unsettled. There IS strength in numbers. How about starting a Change.org petition to spread the word and put pressure on the shameful and unethical corporation that is Seaworld? We CAN make a difference if we pool our outrage and let it fuel us to fight for these majestic animals who can’t free themselves. I believe that we can. Please comment if you want to try.

  • Marsha

    I have been to Sea World 3 times and 2 years ago I remember for the first time as I watched these proud, intelligent beings, it dawned on me like a kick in the stomach that they were performing in order to get fed but then I shook it off as … but they seem so happy!!! I then justified it by comparing this behavior to giving our own dogs treats for doing tricks. But if this documentary is to be believed, it isn’t the same at all. In fact the whales will not be fed if they do not perform. As a Mother, I wept when I watched the video where the offspring Shamu was taken away from her mother. Watching Shamu’s mother wail in the corner of her tub in unbelievable grief was heart wrenching. How could I not see this deception? Apparently Sea world has been brilliant at deceiving even the trainers into thinking this is all OKAY. Shame on us all.

  • Tamara Pride

    So grateful for having seen this important film that was so heartbreaking to watch. I too went to Seaworld and felt sad and unsettled but had no idea just how horrendous it really is. How about pooling our outrage and starting a Change.org petition to put pressure on the shameful, greedy and unethical corporation that is Seaworld and others like it? Together we can make a difference.

  • Kathy Dannemiller

    I am haunted by the documentary. My daughter was one as an young child who was unwilling to go the the circus or zoo and I never understood her reason.Many years later we saw the movie “Water for Elephants” together and I told her I was so unsettled for days after seeing it and knowing it was based on truth. That’s when she told me at age 14 that she believed all circuses and zoos were cruel to animals. It hadn’t occured to me that that’s why she refused to go to the zoo and circus when she was younger. Behind the scenes can really be a whole other scenerio. I applaud the filmaker for taking the risk to put this out there and I’m glad CNN backed it.
    You know, we see many photos of abused children and most often, they are smiling in school or family pictures, never reveiling to the public the pain they are in. I feel this is the case for performing animals. It’s just sad and it can be changed with knowlege and public support.

  • Jason

    So sea world profits off the abuse and mishandling of these majestic creatures and now the “writer” of this documentary is doing just that.

    I agree many aspects of the lives of these whales is very sad to know about, but I also do see how a child seeing one of these creatures up close through that piece of glass might inspire them to grow up and do a lot for the future of the species. Especially a child who otherwise would have no other opportunity to see them. Being face to face with a massive orca is quite an experience regardless of your age.. I actually agree with a lot jack Hannah said too. Not all of it, but a lot of it.

    I think magnolia pictures and their producers care little about these whales and that this documentary was made to manipulate using emotions so that they might sell tickets/DVDs/ad space etc. be nominated for oscars.

    Most documentaries contain many fabrications because they are trying to win over your opinion, don’t be fooled into thinking Blackfish is an exception.

    • Bob

      Thank you! Finally with someone who has common sense!

  • Terri Frank

    I haven’t been able to get this documentary out of my mind since seeing it 2 weeks ago. I went to Sea World 10 years ago and remember getting tears in my eyes while watching the interaction between these magnificent animals and their trainers…it amazed me how one could even teach them some of the tricks they performed. Now, the tears are in my eyes for a very different reason. My 2 granddaughters live in Orlando and my daughter told me they will never go to Sea World even tho it’s about 20 minutes away from them. And I will never return…EVER! I am an animal lover and it breaks my heart to know these wonderful beings have to live like this. FREE TILLY and the other orcas…for the love of animals let them live their lives the way they were meant to.