Elephants in circus acts, lobotomies on the mentally ill, open heart surgeries performed on infants: It’s easy for people to look back on the past and call the collective actions of a society barbaric. Hindsight is everything, as they say, but what about when it comes to critiquing the here and now?
“Blackfish,” a documentary released earlier this year, seeks to do just that. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite delves into the seemingly family-friendly enterprise of SeaWorld and its celebrated whale shows, and what she finds is a shockingly dark realm of misinformation and cover-ups.
The film begins with a chilling recording of a phone call made by a SeaWorld employee in 2010 to report that a whale had eaten its trainer – and that it still had the body trapped within its massive jaws. The incident resulted in a lawsuit by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration against SeaWorld, but the real story begins nearly 30 years earlier with the capture of a male killer whale named Tilikum. Under Cowperthwaite’s direction, the film explores the series of events that led up to the death of senior trainer Dawn Brancheau and leaves the audience questioning who the true killers are.
Perhaps the most touching point of the film is its exploration of the very real consequences of keeping wild animals in captivity. “Blackfish” takes viewers into the social and highly expressive world of orcas, animals which actually have a part of the brain that humans do not: a part of the brain that adds to the emotional richness of their experiences. From the inhumane procedures used to capture these animals, to the fact that they are held in nothing more than floating steel boxes for two-thirds of their lives and trained through starvation – it is clear that little regard is given to the very real feelings of these majestic creatures.
Trainers who dealt directly with Tilikum were not made aware that the whale had actually killed someone at its previous park before being purchased by SeaWorld. However it seems that higher-ups knew of Tilikum’s history of aggression, and in fact, lies and misinformation seem to be all part of the way SeaWorld operates.
Rather than paint Tilikum as a wild beast, incapable of being tamed, the film seeks to understand the ethos behind his behavior. “Blackfish” unpacks a slew of lies designed to make the public believe in the safe and humane treatment of SeaWorld orcas, despite the overwhelming evidence that the mistreatment of these naturally gentle giants leads to psychosis and aggressive behavior.**This review was originally published at www.uncmirror.com