Blackfish is one of those documentaries that comes out every couple of years that actually gets people buzzing about the message of the film, and quickly becomes something that everybody needs to see. There are plenty of examples of this, including famous docs like 20 Feet From Stardom, Bowling for Columbine, or The Cove.
The film is straight forward in its message: the capture and keeping of orcas (killer whales) is wrong, as it leads the majestic animals to feel trapped, causing them to occasionally lash out at their trainers, which often leads to their deaths.There really isn’t both sides to this story, especially because SeaWorld decided not to be a part of the documentary to defend their actions or provide viewers with their side of the story. Due to this, SeaWorld comes across as a monster corporation that does horrible things to the animals they have in captivity.
There are plenty of interesting things in this film. Some shocking stories, and a lot of good interviews with former SeaWorld trainers, orca experts, and occupational health and safety people. There are some details from the numerous court cases against SeaWorld over the years, and there are the terrible stories of trainers that lost their lives by being attacked by killer whales.
But most interesting, is the stories of the killer whales themselves.
Impressive animals, it is heartbreaking to see footage of them being hunted and torn away from their families, for the entertainment of the paying public. The lies spread by the company have been heard by anybody who has ever visited animals in captivity. Sure, they live longer in captivity. Except, this isn’t true. They are with their families. Not true either. In fact, the whales are taken from different parts of the world, and have difficulty adapting to one another, often leaving them brutalized and bleeding from the abuse they put on one another. The trainers are highly trained individuals who go through years of practice before working with the animals. Also a lie.
Blackfish makes us feel sorry for the animals, before we feel sorry for the humans. It is sad when human life is lost, but by the end of the film, we really can’t blame the whales for lashing out. They live in pools, too small for their massive size, and go through grueling training and performances every day. They are wild animals, and they have been pent up, and we are surprised whenever their instincts take over.
Perhaps most offensive is the gross negligence of SeaWorld, when they purchased a male whale for breeding purposes, who already had a history of violence against people (and would only increase his list of fatalities as the years wore on). Not only were they breeding his behaviors into new generations of killer whales, but they were keeping the massive whale, the largest in captivity, in conditions that were not suitable for his size. It is sad to watch. Even though the animals often seem like they are having fun, and enjoy performing the tricks, there has to be a point where they want to be free. The researchers interviewed in the film discuss the idea that orcas have the ability to feel emotions in a similar way to humans, and this is demonstrated by their cries when their calves are taken away, or when they seem depressed and won’t move for hours at a time. We, as regular viewers, can plainly see that these creatures have emotions, especially where their own families are concerned, and yet we still support places like SeaWorld, paying to watching them to funny tricks. It was interesting to hear from the trainers, who were always shocked yet not entirely shocked when a whale would attack a human. Once they got past the fun of their jobs, they realized that what they were doing was wrong, and they too, began to feel sorry for the animals, one trainer admitting that he only kept the job because he cared so much for the orca he was working with, and wasn’t sure who would take care of him if he left.
Destroying nature for our entertainment is nothing new. We have been doing it forever, and will probably continue to do so until awareness by films such as Blackfish turn enough people off the idea of keeping free animals locked away, and keeps them away from the parks that support this behavior.
This is very much a one-sided documentary, making it more of an opinion film than a true documentary. Regardless, the message is clear, and it would be difficult to support a company like SeaWorld after seeing something like this. It is terrible what is done to the creatures. Sure, they are not abused or beaten by the trainers. But some of the techniques are harsh, and the conditions are in no way ideal places for the black and white creatures to exist. They need the oceans to live. Not pools.
Blackfish is highly interesting, and worth the buzz that it has generated. It is worth watching on Netflix.