Monday, October 28, 2013


In this blog I wanted to review the documentary Blackfish and talk about the practices of zoos and places like SeaWorld.  Before I get into the film and my opinions, I want to say that I have always been a supporter of zoos and yes, even SeaWorld.  I worked at a zoo when I was younger and loved every part of it.  A lot of people are now saying that they will never visit zoos or SeaWorld again after watching this film.  I believe you should not put those two in the same category.  Many zoos are non-profit and don't make their animals perform for people.  SeaWorld on the other hand is a business that runs theme parks.  That's not to say they don't do good.  I will talk about that later. I have never been a fan of making animals perform for people like they do at SeaWorld, but I will admit I do visit the parks once in a while and do enjoy the show.  I know it hypocritical on my part.  So with that said lets get into the documentary.

 The film was first released at the Sundance Film Festival in January.  It aired this week on CNN which is when I watch it probably like most of you.  The film begins with the recording of the 911 call made when the killer whale Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau, a trainer, in February 2010.  I found this a little unfair.  They obviously wanted to shock and set the tone for what the films direction is.  They could have played this recording later in the film when they spent the last quarter of the film talking about the killing. 

Next they had some of the former trainers talking about their feeling toward the whales.  One trainer said they were mesmerized by the whales and another said that his relationship with the whales were the best relationship he has ever had.  Now I believe this is the root problem of the whole debate.  These trainers act as if they are equals with the whales and that they can control or understand their behaviors.  That is exactly what OSHA's argument was when they sued SeaWorld.  Their argument is that it is inherently dangerous and you can't predict the outcome when you enter the whales environment.  You have to be a little crazy to get into the water with these giant creatures that you can't possible know what they are thinking or feeling.  For SeaWorld and the trainers to think this is untrue is irresponsible and dangerous.  OSHA researcher Howard Garrett said that the trainers believe the whales want to be their companions which is completely untrue.  Whales in the wild never interact with humans.

The film then goes into how the whales were captured.  In my opinion this was the hardest part of the documentary to watch.  It was really brutal and quite frankly disturbing.  In 1970 they went to Washington to capture the whales.  They took babies away from their mothers because they wanted the young ones because they would live longer in their park.  This was a terrible thing and there is no excuse for it.  Then with the whales that died in the nets they cut open their stomachs and filled them with rocks so that they would sink to the bottom so no one would see what had happened.  I can't think of anything more horrific than this.  Covering up what they did shows they knew it was wrong what they were doing. 

Next was the story of Tilikum's early life.  He was brought into captivity in 1983.  He was captured by Sealand, a small park in Canada.  He was living in a very small enclosure with two females who mistreated him and attacked him many times.  Many feel this is why he sometimes attacks and kills trainers and has erratic behavior.  Sealand closed after the whales, mostly Tilikum, killed a trainer who fell into the enclosure.  On a side note, the lady who was telling the story of the attack  seemed really creepy to me because she would not stop smiling while talking about a woman dying.  Sorry back to the film.  I felt this part of the film was a waste of time.  Obviously the filmmakers problem is with SeaWorld and this part of the film was put in to show that Tilikum was mistreated and that is why he is how he is not because he is an animal who is a predator in the wild. 

The last quarter of the movie was spend on the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau.  She was killed in February 2010 by Tilikum.  It was really sad that a person had to lose their life doing what they loved to do.  On the other had getting in the water with a killer whale who she knew had killed someone in the past is stupid. 

That in my opinion should have been the focus of the documentary.  I felt the film should have been how these animals should not be put into shows or interact with trainers in the water.  Instead it was an attack on SeaWorld putting the blame squarely on them.  My biggest problem with the film were the former trainers.  Why did they go along with how SeaWorld treated the animals if they had a problem with it.  They worked there for years and still cashed their checks every two weeks.  Now that they no longer work there, now they have a problem and are trashing SeaWorld.  On May 30, 2010 the courts ruled that during shows trainers must now remain behind barriers, separated from the animals.  I feel that this is a great law however SeaWorld has appealed the decision.

Now I am going to put in an argument as to why SeaWorld is not as bad as this film made them out to be.  The first SeaWorld opened March 21, 1964 in San Diego.  They now also operate 2 other parks in Orlando and San Antonio.  Currently they have 22 killer whales in captivity in their 3 parks.  10 in San Diego, 7 in Orlando, and 5 in San Antonio.  They have done some bad things but they also do a lot of good things.  They have rescued over 22,000 animals.  They have helped with the conservation of dozens of animas.  80% of their killer whales were born in captivity and can not be released back into the wild because they cannot fend for themselves. 

In conclusion, I have no problem with zoos and places like SeaWorld.  Do they do bad things, of course.  And those things should be changed.  But I believe that they do a lot more to help animals than hurt them.  I hate when animals are forced to put on shows for peoples enjoyment but I believe that keeping animals in captivity is a good thing, to a point.  Thousands of species have been saved because of captive breeding and I believe educating the public to all wildlife is a good thing.  It sucks to say that keeping animals in captivity is good for a species but sometimes it is.  The information we get from studying them help save thousands in the wild.  Sometimes people have to understand the hard truth that we can't save or release every animal. 

Thanks for reading.  I know I was a little all over the place.  Its my first blog.  I promise it will get better.


  1. Great first post J. I agree with you on most of your points but not all. I also believe that many places do help with wildlife, we have been members of the San Diego Zoo/Safari Park for 4 years, and we will continue to be because I do not see anything wrong with what they are doing, in fact they are helping save a dying species of Rhinos with the birth of a baby within the last few years. My problem with Sea World and has always been before Blackfish came out is that they make them perform and they keep them in small tanks. The tanks are a huge problem to me. I remember years ago reading about the size of the tanks and seeing aerial shots of the tanks with the orcas inside and there wasn't a lot of space for them. I find it incredibly cruel. I had a long discussion with David over that years ago, and have struggled with sticking to my beliefs on the subject or just saying "who cares" and go anyway for my own curiosity to see these beauties in action even if not in their natural habitat. I have still not gone, and after the attack three years ago decided that I would not go. I agree that it is the trainers fault for getting in period but again I do believe that the reason the attacks happened are because they are 1. killer whales and 2. in horrible living situations. The fact that the movie tries to argue that no attacks happen in their natural habitat isn't a valid argument in my opinion. Do we see people trying to ride them out there? No. Maybe you are right with Sea World being good for some of their residents but I see them as an amusement park using Orcas to get people inside and making them perform when they aren't suppose to. SDZ doesn't do that with any of their animals. You will also not find me at any circus because I do not believe in having elephants stand and spin on balls. One scene I found incredibly heartbreaking was when Sea World had a baby born, used it for marketing and in the show, and then because it sometimes didn't perform to their standards got rid of it and separated it from the mother. How about maybe finding a new home for both together? The stuff form 1970 is horrific but I also think it's used for shock and I would hope times have changed. Anyway... there's my view on it, and you still won't see me going to Sea World.

  2. Great post Justin and can't agree with you more. They have done things that are bad but they also have done a lot of good. Can't wait to read more of your blogs.