29 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars
Three deaths, two decades, one whale., 5 Aug 2013
In one of the most powerful and thought-provoking documentaries in a generation, Blackfish turns the spotlight on humankind's selfish desire to confine large, charismatic marine mammals in a captive situation for our viewing pleasure. Gabriela Cowperthwaite's important film could have so easily been labelled `just another activist film' but this is different - our narrators here, for the most part, are `industry' i.e. ex-marine mammal trainers who have decided to speak out on the culture, the management style and the monstrous PR machine that exists at one of America's most identifiable brands - SeaWorld.
The trainers don't have an axe to grind as many left the industry years ago and have gone on to establish successful careers in other disciplines. Neither were they rewarded financially for their contribution to the film. Blackfish draws aside the thin façade that hides the dark underbelly of the captivity industry and arms the filmgoer with the facts allowing them to finally dispel the myth behind the Shamu label.
In a searingly honest and candid account of their time at SeaWorld, the trainers eloquently talk about their frustrations with the job and about how controlling senior management could be if they didn't toe the corporate line. The trainers openly and honestly acknowledge that they had doubts and questions about the whales' behaviour and the trainer's working practices but didn't dare raise them so as not to jeopardise their own positions.
Just as the orcas are deprived of food if they miss a cue or don't perform correctly during showtime, their trainers feared that they too may be `deprived' of working with the whales if they were to speak out on any welfare or safety concerns they may have had.
For many, this all changed on February 24th 2010 with the tragic death of experienced trainer, Dawn Brancheau, at SeaWorld Orlando. Dawn was grabbed, pulled into the water and drowned by a male orca called Tilikum whilst kneeling beside his pool. The autopsy report detailing her horrific injuries makes for harrowing reading. Orcas are by far the largest animals kept in captivity and Tilikum, weighing in at 12,000 pounds, is by far the world's largest captive orca.
But this wasn't the first time Tilikum was responsible for human death. In 1991, on the other side of the continent, trainer Keltie Byrne met a similar fate at Sealand of the Pacific in Victoria, Canada. In 1999, Daniel Dukes, a visitor to SeaWorld Orlando, hid out in the park after closing and was found mutilated and drowned in Tilikum's tank the following morning. Since Dawn's death SeaWorld has been banned from letting its trainers back in the water - a decision they are currently appealing.
In spite of the risks, Tilikum is hugely important to SeaWorld's breeding programme. This disturbed, bored, frustrated, aggressive and possibly psychotic whale's DNA can now be traced through the lineage of the majority of SeaWorld's captive born orcas. These are not desirable qualities to propagate in any responsible captive breeding programme especially one where such powerful animals work in close proximity with humans.
It is unlikely Tilikum was born with these problems. He is a son of Iceland. Captured from the wild at three years of age, he was brutally removed from his pod and consigned to a life in captivity. Blackfish recalls the tragic deaths of three people but there really are four victims to this sorry tale. From the moment Tilikum was removed from the ocean and placed on the back of a truck his life was effectively over.
As people stream out of the Shamu Stadium and plan their next thrill-seeking experience, they should spare a thought for Tilikum in his holding tank - alone, bored, listless and a one-dimensional caricature of his wild counterpart. He's still there after thirty years....... hour after hour, day after day, year after year. The phrase, dying to entertain you, has never rung more true and makes you realise that sometimes in life you just have to shake your head and walk away.
Make no mistake, Blackfish is an important film and deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible. Its ultimate triumph lies in exposing the fake, plastic sparkle of the SeaWorld experience.