In class on Thursday we talked about the documentary Blackfish. This film focuses on SeaWorld and their questionable treatment of killer whales for entertainment purposes. It describes how the smallest whales are captured and separated from their families in the wild and put in captivity for the remainder of their lives just to be showboated around for audiences. It details the conditions of the whales and how they are often violent towards each other because the older, bigger whales assert their dominance on the smaller whales. It then goes through several different accounts of the whales either killing or injuring the trainers at SeaWorld, and discusses several reasons why. This documentary definitely makes SeaWorld look like a cruel, inhumane corporation that tortures these creatures for their own monetary gain, however I found a statement made by SeaWorld that objects to the documentary for a variety of reasons.
In this statement, SeaWorld claims, “the film conveys falsehoods, manipulates viewers emotionally, and relies on questionable filmmaking techniques to create ‘facts’ that support its point of view”. SeaWorld denies the claim that they capture killer whales from the wild and separate mothers and calves. They say that the footage of the fisherman collecting the orca was from 40 years ago when this practice was legal, and that this no longer takes place. They note that Tilikum was not collected in this manner. In the film, they talk about a whale named Kalina who was separated as a calve, but SeaWorld claims that she was moved when she was 4.5 years old because she was disruptive to her mother and other whales. They say that they never separate mothers and calves, and rarely even move whales at all unless it is completely necessary.
SeaWorld also says that the individuals who were interviewed in the film haven’t worked there for over 20 years and that they are unfamiliar with the current conditions and techniques used. Additionally, they say that the scientists in the film have no expertise with killer whale behavior in captivity. They also claim that the account of Dawn Brancheau’s death was overdramatized and not accurate with what really happened. Apparently, no one was actually even allowed to swim with Tilikum from the date he arrived at SeaWorld, and Ms. Brancheau actually never did. I found this to be a very interesting claim. They say that Tilikum was falsely suggested to be psychotic and aggressive, and neither was true. Finally, they claim that the neuroscientist in the film has no known expertise in killer whales and she had no scientific support to her claims. They say that her description of the whales as “emotionally destroyed” and “ticking time bombs” were the words of animal rights activists who had no idea what they were talking about. According to SeaWorld, Blackfish is not a documentary, but simply propaganda.
This statement did not completely convince me that the documentary was entirely misleading, however it did put some doubt in my mind. These are very bold statements and there is no way to know who is telling the truth and who is blatantly lying. At this point, I don’t know who to believe. One fact that really stands out to me above everything, however, is that the lifespan of orcas in the wild is similar to humans, but in captivity it is only about 25-30 years. Even if the documentary made up some of its information, this one fact should prove that this practice is cruel and inhumane.