Reactionary Causes

My Problem with 'Blackfish'

A great documentary that fails in some important areas

Tilikum in Blackfish
Tilikum in Blackfish
Photo: Magnolia Pictures

There's no denying Blackfish is a powerful documentary. Focusing on the mistreatment of orcas by SeaWorld and other such marine mammal parks for human entertainment, the captivity of these animals is something that needs to continually be addressed as it has been for several years.

The opening moments describing the capturing process is enough to enrage anyone with the slightest bit of compassion in their hearts. The horrors continue as we hear of the tight confinements and utter darkness several are kept in over night at the now-shutdown Sealand aquarium in Victoria, Canada or the description of a baby orca and its mother's cries as the two are wrongfully separated. However, these are the obvious facts of the case, it's the film's presentation of the facts that raised my eyebrows.

The story of Blackfish is told by a group of former SeaWorld trainers, a story that leads to the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau who was attacked by an orca named Tilikum, whose path we follow from his capture in 1983 to Dawn's death in 2010. In-between these times several other incidents involving trainers and some involving violence strictly between the orcas is detailed. The most damning piece of information, in my opinion, is the statistic that not a single human has ever been killed in the wild by an orca whale and yet the incidents continually mount in Blackfish. The case for not keeping orcas in captivity is open and shut as far as I'm concerned.

However, before I continue, I think it's important and fair to include a statement SeaWorld gave to CNN (a producing partner and distributor of Blackfish) regarding the documentary before it aired on the cable news channel recently:

"Blackfish is billed as a documentary, but instead of a fair and balanced treatment of a complex subject, the film is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau's family, friends and colleagues. To promote its bias that killer whales should not be maintained in a zoological setting, the film paints a distorted picture that withholds from viewers key facts about SeaWorld -- among them, that SeaWorld is one of the world's most respected zoological institutions, that SeaWorld rescues, rehabilitates and returns to the wild hundreds of wild animals every year, and that SeaWorld commits millions of dollars annually to conservation and scientific research. Perhaps most important, the film fails to mention SeaWorld's commitment to the safety of its team members and guests and to the care and welfare of its animals, as demonstrated by the company's continual refinement and improvement to its killer whale facilities, equipment and procedures both before and after the death of Dawn Brancheau."

Of course, you could very easily poke holes in SeaWorld's rather vague statement, but I'll leave that alone for the purposes of this article. Moving on...

As far as quality is concerned when looking at Blackfish as a documentary, I have some issues. As I mentioned on last Friday's podcast, the fact the story is largely told (about 95% I'd say) through the voices of five former SeaWorld trainers is problematic. There aren't many specifics when it comes to just how long each of them worked there, at least none that I can remember hearing anyway, and the fact none of them seem to hold any personal responsibility for what takes place is bothersome for me.

At one point, John Jett, a former SeaWorld trainer from the early-to-mid '90s who now serves as a Research Professor at Stetson University, speaks to why he stuck around and says he "stayed for Tilikum" because if he didn't, he didn't know who would care for him. In the press notes for the film it says a contributing factor to Jett's leaving was the demoralization of Tilikum as trainers were asked to collect his sperm on a regular basis. "It was just so demeaning to the whale," Jett is quoted saying.

I'm can't remember if Jett's reason for leaving is ever specifically mentioned in the film, but I think a lot more is said in the following passage from Tim Zimmerman's "The Killer in the Pool" piece for Outside Online:

John Jett was a trainer at SeaWorld in the 1990s. He left to pursue a Ph.D. in natural-resource management in 1995, having grown disillusioned with the reality of keeping large, intelligent animals in captivity. He says that getting nicked, and sometimes hammered, was just part of the price of living the killer whale dream: "There were so many incidents. If you show fear or go home hurt, you might be put on the bench."

Jett was a Tilikum team leader and also comments in that same piece about the beatdown's Tilikum would receive (one of which is seen in the film) that would leave him bloodied and causing him to have to be held out of shows (something SeaWorld denies). Jett termed the blood in the water "sky writing" and says, "It's extremely sad if you think about being in Tili's situation. The poor guy just has no place to run."

So, clearly, despite the ugly side of things, there was an allure to being a SeaWorld trainer that kept these people around. Blackfish also makes sure to mention there wasn't a doctorate requirement to work with any of the whales. One of the trainers, in fact, started in the kitchen. These were ordinary people, just like you and me and they got caught up in a situation they couldn't handle or control. However, to tell the stories of what happened while you were there and to act as if you weren't complicit in some way is problematic if you want my opinion. Sure, you were drawn to your work and were able to overlook wrong-doing to make sure you didn't lose your job, but I think history will show that's not a good way to go about your business. I simply just didn't like the way each trainer seemed able to justify why they remained at SeaWorld despite what was going on and what they now so easily fight against without any visible remorse and/or shame as much as they simply say, "This happened, and this happened and that happened..."

At the same time, I don't want to pretend Blackfish is the first time any of these people have decided to speak out or that it's necessarily their fault their reasoning, shame, remorse, etc. isn't included in the documentary. This could all be due to poor editing, but it remains a problem with the documentary overall.

That said, Blackfish, if anything, is only the latest response to whales being kept in captivity. Jett has been speaking out against it since the mid-'90s and just because I wasn't aware of his efforts doesn't mean he wasn't making them.

Blackfish [Blu-ray]

Blackfish [Blu-ray]

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My problem isn't with the message, it's with the delivery and while Blackfish is successful in getting its message out I think it fails in giving us all the necessary information. I also think it fails in making this a larger topic. Yes, the subject of the film is killer whales, but what about every other animal in captivity. There's a comment made about seeing something in the whale's eyes, are the eyes of all other animals kept in captivity for human amusement empty? Just a quick montage of other animal species kept in captivity would have been enough to open up the conversation, but like so many documentaries today the message becomes so targeted it loses some of its power.

I think Blackfish is a documentary worth seeing as anything that is able to encourage this level of conversation clearly hits a nerve, I just wish documentaries did a better job of covering their bases when it comes to opening themselves up to potential criticism.

All that said, just below is the film's trailer along with the 1997 episode A Whale of a Business from Frontline, which is largely considered the pioneering investigation into the business and practices of marine mammal parks and goes to show this is a battle that didn't just begin with Blackfish.

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  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

    Much like 12th & Delaware and How To Die In Oregon, Blackfish is a very emotive subject that people need watch, reflect, dissect and hopefully discuss with others and spread the word. This documentary like any film, drama or otherwise will of course be tainted by bias and will fall short of perfection, we must also remember it is a commercial product and one the backers will hope to see a profit from so that will naturally effect the material. My reasoning for speaking up for Blackfish is for the effect it had on me, any film that can inspire, make you cry, shock you or that you need to take a break from is pretty fabulous in my book, especially in this day of age of men in tights and remakes.

    ps This isn't a counter argument to Brad's piece, just my overall point of view and a bit of flag waving to the beautiful world of documentaries.

    pps No abuse please, i've had a rough couple of days.

  • Paul Hennen

    There is no point in even caring about bias of this film. Capturing and keeping orca whales in captivity is wrong and there is a reason why they get pissed off and people get hurt; they are freakin huge wild animals! Of course there are some things that involve taking care of them that would be uncomfortable, seem demeaning. They are so big that even just being a little mad and a bite could result in a very harmful injury. Even worse, if they did release them all, a good amount would probably die. Screw you SeaWorld!

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

      I meant bias from the filmmaker, not the audience if you're referring to my post. If not, delete this from your memory.

      • Paul Hennen

        I actually wasn't, but, though I can see why being overly bias can ruin the main affect. To me though I don't really get why it even matters.

    • NDMA

      Humanity is too pathetic to take care of their own, what makes them think their omnipotent selves can take care of other life much larger than themselves is beyond me: probably the same thing that gives Americans the right to commit genocide across almost every continent on the planet, any similarity between that and what gave the right to Hitler for all he did?

      Humans thinking it is their right to do whatever they want: nation exercising it at present: United States of America (financiers of the largest militarized terrorist force on the planet). Your futures are destined by the actions of your present: you get what you deserve.

      PS: Like Gandi, there are people that destroy empires/economies without a single weapon, just because we let you Americans do what you wish is only because we didn't believe in killing for our personal gain: now it appears that the world is not safe with your profiteering from weapons (conventional and of mass destruction) being valued far greater than life itself: you warmongers will be stopped.

      • Mike

        you seemed to have woke up on the wrong side of the bed

    • anon

      thank you anon ;)

    • Mike

      being biased can and does make a big difference when it comes to films like this. if your going to bring attention to the complex issue about the Sea World orca’s, be sure to tell the full story like the fact that Sea World needs the funds the orcas bring in to fund the programs that help there species in the wild, and many other organizations and projects geared to saving endangered species. They are not a money hungry corporation when the majority of there funds go right back out into animal conservation programs, they are the big money that helps many other programs, if we eliminate them we end up eliminating everything they do for our ocean wild life, effectively cutting our legs out from under us.

  • Marlon Wallace

    I had a different reaction to the trainers than Brad. I agree that more interviews than just the handful of whale trainers would have been preferred. The documentary felt very insular in that way, but I did get the sense that the trainers felt remorse about what happened. I don't know about their personal responsibility, but I don't think I'm ready to compare these people to Kate Winslet's character in 'The Reader'.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/maja/ maja

    Interesting article. I think it's an important documentary rather than a great one. I know that Seaworld 'refused to comment' for the film but when a film is this one sided it does make you question alot of things especially when the people interviewing could very easily be disgruntled ex-employees.

    • XbonzHD

      I ask myself, "If Seaworld is so great, why didn't any current and happy trainers participate in the film.?" Or even happy ex-employees?

      • HIronside

        Any current sea world employee who would speak against sea world would become an ex employee. If sea world gave a crap about their trainers how come the shows went on the day Dawn Brancheau was burried? They are not about their people or the animals. Its all about the money- start to finish
        Poor Tilikum is equivalent to a washed up child actor. He's of no use to them, other than his semen. They disgust me.

        • Harry

          Then I argue that if you really cared about people who die in car crashes, you wouldn't drive on a road someone died on for weeks after they were buried to show respect, but most people just drive by while the accident is still being cleaned up. Also, people spend thousands of dollars to take a vacation, planning for months, flying from all over the country, to go to the park and see the shows, is seaworld supposed to tell them to screw off too? Where does it end to respect people? And of course it is a business and every business in the world has damning evidence against them in how they treat people compared to their profit, why is seaword different and subject to that argument more than other businesses? Unless you are just piling on because you already don't agree with what they do.
          I thought this movie was quite trashy. It is more biased than Rush Limbaugh and seaworld knows this so they decided that there is no point arguing with people who already made up their minds without looking at all the facts.

          • CSVulcan

            The exploitation of people by consenting people for profit is not comparable to the exploitation of non-consenting sentient beings. If you wanted to draw a comparison, your best bet is the capture and abuse of non-consenting humans, as was/is the case with slavery and I believe we can all agree that this is immoral. Why should it be any different for these orcas, whose emotional intelligence most likely far exceeds our own? From an ethical perspective, there simply is no "right" to entertainment at the expense of another sentient being. Our freedom ends where it begins to limit the well-being of another. And if you think the documentary was biased, please remember that Seaworld is a corporation, categorized as a theme park and entertainment company. The CEO makes $800K/yr, the CFO $550K, the COO $850K and the Chief Creative Officer $488K. You can't possibly believe that they have the welfare of animals at heart. Sounds to me like you are ignoring some facts yourself.

      • Mike

        the fact that the film makers was only looking for unhappy employees

    • Elizabeth Batt

      Understand your view, a colleague said the same. I think worthy of note is the professional careers these trainers have today. Doctors and in John Jett's case, a visiting professor at Stetson University. Two of the trainers in Blackfish (Jett and Ventre) recently co-authored a paper on orcas that was peer-reviewed. Also of note, if you remove their personal testimonies, the facts and history of SeaWorld's actions remain. They are well documented and cannot change. SeaWorld refuses to comment on just about everything. They have long believed that they are above being questioned even though the latest scientific research does not favor them well. They refuse to enter a debate on the subject of orca captivity, in fact when the doco was first released they sent their response to film critics in a secret e-mail that was exposed after the fact. I think the main points to consider are that since 1961, 158 orcas have died in captivity. Given how long they can live in the wild (the oldest is currently believed to be around 102 years old), 158 orcas in 52 years is startling. The oldest orca in captivity is in her 40s, but there are only two that old in captivity. Average time in captivity for all whales deceased in captivity is 6 years, 6 months.
      The average time in captivity for all whales in captivity (deceased and alive, n = 204) is 8 years, 6 months. You can read more at OrcaHome.de.

    • Mike

      http://micechat.com/53915-blackfish-exposed/ this should help with the fact that blackfish is seriously one sided

  • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3769949/ thatpj

    Interesting take. I don't really agree with it but respect your point of view. I really don't think you can blame the triners for the deaths of other trainers, though. The doc does a great job showing how Seaworld trained the trainers to use misleading facts that only served to help the bottom line (ex. the 80% of male whales have drooped fins line) That spoonfeeding shows that the issue goes straight to the top.

    My problem isn't with the message, it's with the delivery and whileBlackfish is successful in getting its message out I think it fails in giving us all the necessary information. I also think it fails in making this a larger topic. Yes, the subject of the film is killer whales, but what about every other animal in captivity.

    I actually agree with this, however as a political scientist, I know that you have to be focused on your issue if you want to get the big picture conversation started. Like for example the Tea Party is really effective at pushing republicans, not just because they get big money from shadowy donors but because they have a list of demands and if they don't follow then they vote them out. This documentary is just like those list of demands. If some action is taken from this, maybe that inspires another documentary to make a film about zoos or something. Blackfish is really a tip of the iceberg.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

      Sounds like your disagreement actually supports Brad's point - if the trainers were disseminating misleading facts, that only makes them more complicit. Of course it would have come from the top, but if the trainers went along with it, they're part of the problem.

      • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3769949/ thatpj

        Spoken like someone who didn't even read my comment or watch the film

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

          How could I refer to something you said in your comment if I didn't read your comment? Whatevs.

          • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3769949/ thatpj

            Because I never actually wrote that...Derp.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/TheLastEquivocationofBrist/ TheLastEquivocationofBrist

              "the doc does a great job showing how Seaworld trained the trainers to use misleading facts that only served to help the bottom line" is what I was referring to.

              • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3769949/ thatpj

                And how does the Seaworld training them make them complicit? Please explain it to us Nostrodamus.

    • Michael7117

      I largely agreed with your post except for your contention that the Tea Party gets "big money from shadowy donors." Donations to mainstream Democrats and Republicans far exceed donations to the Tea Party. As a political scientist, you can easily look this up.

  • Sam Zapp

    Too bad Sea World refused many opportunities to comment/discuss.

    • Deborah Stone

      SeaWorld's silence about this documentary is deafening.

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Torryz/ Torryz

    Good article Brad. Throughout the film I keep thinking, why didn't these trainers say anything to the authorities? If they had problems with the way the whales were being handled, why didn't they quit? They continued to cash their paychecks.

  • Bill

    It was very much a one-sided documentary. What I found disturbing was not the points you made in the article but the fact one of the biggest benefits of captive orcas ( and animals in general) was never made in the film. I believe it was only stated once during the entire two hours and not very elegantly.

    And that is raising awareness for conservation efforts (and cash).

    Is it worth keeping a small number of individuals in captivity to help raise public awareness, political pressure and money to save entire species? As morally repugnant as it sounds there is valid argument to be made for the point captive animals are taking one for the team and their captivity isn't in vain.

    • http://www.imdb.com/name/nm3769949/ thatpj

      Seaworld is a for profit business. Not a charity.

      • Christine Giannini

        SeaWorld shows make no effort to educate the crowd about wild orcas and their conservation. They simply promote a mindless experience where the audience is led to believe the orcas are having fun doing these same tricks endlessly 365 days a year. People can view orcas in the wild from boats, kayaks, and even from shore in the San Juan Islands every summer and fall - right now they're swimming up and down Puget Sound and people are seeing them from the ferries! There has never been a need to capture them to promote their conservation, and the theft of an entire generation from their families is something the Resident pods here have never recovered from, and now may never as at least a couple of the pods don't have enough breeding age females, and/or males in them to continue to reproduce successfully. It has been devastating to the wild population what SeaWorld has done. The laws need to be changed - it's already illegal to steal them from the wild anymore, but SeaWorld is circumventing this by breeding the orcas they have - inbreeding them specifically - and this should be made illegal immediately. There should be laws passed to require them to return the wild orcas to their respective families via a reintegration process. There is already a cove set aside here for Lolita to be returned to from Miami Seaquarium. This is near where her original pod lives and she has shown she remembers their language in her responses to tapes of their calls played to her. We have to care enough about these animals who are just like us, equivalent to us in every way except they live in the sea, to do what's right for them and make sure they have a chance to get back to their rightful home. Everyone write your congressperson and ask them to sponsor a bill, and write the agencies governing these facilities - this is not just a movie - it's a daily reality for these whales.

        • Pastor Craig Finley

          Christine, I live in the NW, as I suppose you may as well. I have been here for 45 years and have traveled the ferries hundreds of times and have even been on a whale watching tour (as well as have been sailing numerous time in the sound) I have never seen a single orca much to my dismay.

          So your statement, like some of the statements of the movie may be somewhat true, but don't paint a complete picture.

      • Mike

        then you apparently are unaware of the dozens of programs and projects they are responsible of funding that help with animal conversations and educating the public, especially seaworlds rescue program that rescues and successfully releases over 300 animals a year on average

    • Elizabeth Batt

      I'll just share some stats from my post above. I think when you consider the number of orcas kept in captivity, it's also important to visit the current statistics. As for SeaWorld's conservation efforts, applauded yes, but most of the money they put into it doesn't even touch their profits but comes from public donations. They breed their orcas extensively and early but never for release. Now for those stats. I think the main points to consider are that since 1961, 158 orcas have died in captivity. Given how long they can live in the wild (the oldest is currently believed to be around 102 years old), 158 orcas in 52 years is startling. The oldest orca in captivity is in her 40s, but there are only two that old in captivity. Average time in captivity for all whales deceased in captivity is 6 years, 6 months. The average time in captivity for all whales in captivity (deceased and alive, n = 204) is 8 years, 6 months. Given those figures, it's more than just a few orcas.

      • Mike

        some more statistics, not including the believed oldest orca, (which is unknown since they hadnt started tracking wild orca ages till about 50 years ago, and its pure speculation on that individual orcas age, they wont really know unless they capture and test him) they live on average 30 years in the wild with a maximum of 50-60, with a 50% mortality rate for orcas under age 5, your 158 number includes orcas outside of seaworld, if you look at seaworld orcas alone the number is much smaller, around 30-40, you can see that the numbers are not that bad, most are young because mortality in young orcas is high but seaworld has proven to have better odds for them making it to age 5

  • JAB

    Empire magazine nailed "Blackfish" with their review comparing it favorably to the great "Grizzly Man". Both films infer that "anyone who believes in the possibility of some kind of magical, spiritual, life-affirming communion with wild animals" is misguided at best. Both films show how this kumbaya thinking can lead to somethng even worse.
    It is most gut wrenching film I've seen all year. I couldn't wait to see it then afterwardsI some part of me wish I never had caught. It's going to take me a long time before I can back & revisit it.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/andyluvsfilms/ andyluvsfilms

      ditto you on that.

  • disqus_TWhtkvMeqx

    Hitler did a lot of good for the german citizens and Germany too (just research this fact)...should we focus on Hitler's accomplishments or should we focus on the horror that he caused throughout Europe.

    Do I think Sea World should shut down? No, I think they need to come up with a new business model that does not include live animals/sea life at their "entertainment" parks....the negative reaction to Sea World because of Black Fish proves this is what people want.

    Look at Mr Walt Disney's business model...he used no live animals, instead he dressed PEOPLE up in costumes to represent animals....Micky Mouse, Mini Mouse, Donald Duck etc etc....kids love these characters! Disney land/world is THE most successful entertainment park(s) in the world....Walt knew what he was doing and his business model still works after 50 or 60 years.

    I see Sea World changing their business model to include rides that educate young and old about how to keep our oceans clean, how to protect our sea life...the possibilities are endless what they can do with out having Killer Whales and other sea life trapped in the middle of a state in a small confined cage with no ocean in site for miles in some cases hundreds of miles. Kids/adult want to learn just look at all of the museums including the Washington Natural History Museum and Sea World can make their parks eductional and at the same time fun.

    Image if you had to live in your bathroom for the rest of your life and then image you had to do tricks to get food, imagine too that there was on roof to this bathroom and people would peer into your world all day long and the walls of your tiny room where glass and kids and adults would bang on the window to get your attention. Do you think you would enjoy your life?

    Blackfish opened peoples eyes wide open to the abuse that is not only going on at Sea World, other type parks but also zoos. Animals/sea life should be in ocean, just like you should not be confined to a small bathroom.

    It's time for a change and I pray that Sea World will make a change to their business model!

    If you did not cry watching Black Fish especially where the mother Killer Whale was in such emotional pain then you have no heart and soul!

    PS Sea World was giving repeated request to participate in the Black Fish Documentary...they choose NOT to...instead they put Jack Hanna on the CNN panel show after the first airing of Black fish and he made a huge fool of himself and Sea World.

    • disqus_TWhtkvMeqx

      By the way Jack Hanna is on the board of directors of Sea World and Sea world produces his tv show (just google) and that is why Jack Hanna went onto CNN...to represent Sea World in stealth...he could not even be honest to the fact he has made millions working for Sea World Enterprises.

    • http://www.jackstovin.co.uk/ Jack Stovin

      'If you did not cry watching Black Fish especially where the mother Killer Whale was in such emotional pain then you have no heart and soul!' - that's quite a solid statement there. I didn't cry.

  • Russell Hockins

    It is a little known fact that In 1980 Sea World San Diego had four young Orcas in their public access petting pool where I had the privilege of getting to know them. They were Kotar [ the one in my icon pic ], Canuck II, Kasatka and Katina and all fairly new to captivity. They were friendly and not aggressive and interacted with thousands of visitors to the park for over a year and no one was ever hurt. Untrained humans interacting with untrained Orcas and no one was hurt.

    Now over three decades of training later after all the operant behavior training, food and social deprivation, highly trained senior park staff who were "specially trained for working with Orcas" are getting killed and the only two of the above mentioned four who are still alive, Kasatka and Katina, are now considered to be "Problem animals" by Sea World. Kasatka is the Orca in the 2006 incident with trainer Ken Peters.

    This is the results of their "quality animal care in captivity" ?

    I have worked on three interspecies communications projects and interacted hands on with dozens of dolphins as well as the above four Orcas. I can say with confidence that cetaceans are highly intelligent and do understand the concept of language. I have even been grabbed by the arm on over a dozen occasions by these four Orcas in the same manner as the official reports about Dawn state when they were inviting me into the water. I am still uninjured, whole and alive because I have trust and respect towards the individuals I have interacted with. I even wanted to be a trainer back then to work with them more but having the opportunity to actually get to know several Orcas in this manner changed that.

    The only education I got from the park and the shows is that captivity is toxic to all cetaceans and they deserve to be treated much better.

    • jddlondon

      I would direct you to the recent book by Dr Justin Gregg 'Are Dolphins Really Smart: The Mammal Behind the Myth', which dismantles the conjecture of highly developed cognition in these animals when compared with many other species; something that has been known to mainstream cetacean biologists for many years but promoted by the animal-rights community for some time to further their own political aspirations.

      • Russell Hockins

        I know of his book and have more than enough experience to know that "Dr. Gregg" is blowing smoke. His species centric based [ biased ? ] view is understandable as is his reaction. Having another intelligent species on the planet [ or anywhere else ] greatly upsets the world view of many people and he, like many other people, are unable to accept it as it displaces humans as "the all knowing all superior species". Yea, just look how well this "all knowing" species has done with the environment. :P

        It is similar to the problem that many whites had long ago and why they considered blacks as 'inferior' and thought it was OK to have them as slaves, or how some people consider their religion 'superior' to others. Fortunately, many if not most, have now grown beyond out dated and old fashioned views such as these.

        Personally I would much prefer the first non-human intelligence humans encountered to come from home [ planet Earth ] than somewhere "out there" where SETI is looking.

        • Collin237

          What do you have experience in? You claim to argue against a book about dolphins, but your argument doesn't mention dolphins at all.

          You offer us an accolade for having outgrown racism and being ready to move on to something you only leave us to guess at. But that's the strategy of the animal rights activists, to blind us from concern for our fellow humans.

          It would be much more helpful to explain the ways in which dolphins are intelligent, which would of course be very different from human intelligence. The more we realize how diversely intelligence is manifest throughout life, the more we appreciate how nearly identical human minds are to each other.

          And if you sincerely believe that dolphins are intelligent, where would you get this "first" non-human intelligence? A seance to summon the ghost of Dolphin Adam? LOL

  • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/profile/Newbourne/ Newbourne

    My first thought from the title was that you had a problem with Brynden Tully from Game of Thrones.

  • Elizabeth Batt

    The former trainers are always very open to discussing their points of view. If you had visited their website at Voice of the Orcas and contacted them, you could have asked the questions that the film did not answer. To be fair, any movie can only run for so many minutes, especially in a documentary where it is important to keep the focus tight. Perhaps follow your viewing up with a read of David Kirby's Death at SeaWorld, it has far more details than the film allows for and should answer many of your questions.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      That's not the point, the point is the film didn't answer the questions. To your running time argument, it's an 83 minute movie, pretty sure the issues I raise would only require another five or so.

      • Elizabeth Batt

        The point is, the history of orca captivity runs far deeper and wider than any film could touch upon in five minutes. The science alone is extensive. As for addressing "every other animal in captivity," not likely to be done in five mins either, given that each must be assessed by species.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

          The point is, this article isn't about orcas in captivity, it's about the presentation of the subject matter in Blackfish.

      • Deborah Stone

        I think you are splitting hairs Brad....why the trainers didn't leave --- (& I have issues with that too....it was my first reaction).,is antithetical to the intent of the documentary.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

          Which is concerning for anyone that doesn't just think on one-track terms. I just like to see as much balance as possible, it only helps the documentary to cover all its bases.

  • hkp88

    I grew up enjoying Sea World, and still have fond memories. I have not seen this film yet, I do want to but I have to ask this question - how is this any different than a zoo? I know the size of the pool/the size of the whale are an issue. But aren't we also keeping other animals that can kill in captivity? I am not taking a side here, because I am interested in seeing the film, but it does seem like it is not telling us everything. If it was so bad, why are the employees still there doing their job?

    • Jean H

      Zoos do not make millions and millions every year -- in fact most are non-profit, if not all. They truly are doing the work of educating the public. Because SeaWorld is a for-profit entity, they have no particular interest in doing what is best for the animals. They certainly want to keep them alive, because they are costly animals, but they don't seem to give a rip about what is important for them to thrive. Zoos differ tremendously, IMHO.

      • hkp88

        So being a non-profit is all that matters? Because watching a lion pace is not harmful to the lion.

      • Mike

        blackfish was for profit, in fact they made millions off one film that undoubtedly did not cost enough to make even a little dent in there profits

    • Deborah Stone

      "If it was so bad why are the employees still doing their job?"
      Are you really that naive?

      • hkp88

        HAHAHA Naive in what way? They just want money? They can't find another job with the skills they possess? I guess then I am. Because they could have signed on with Blackfish and made money off of that. Here's the thing, with all of the captive orcas in the world (not just Sea World) why don't you hear more of the trainers leaving? I get that there are people who will stay because the claim that they need a job or because of being selfish and in it for the money, but can that many people be so emotionless to not leave and make a bigger statement years before a death of a trainer? It takes a death to make a move and that now means it's bad to capture orcas.
        For all those comments about they only need a high school degree...please educate yourselves, yes you can apply...but it's preferred you have a degree.
        For all the comments about there has not been a death of a human in the wild....because they are called KILLER WHALES and people don't dive into the ocean day to day to swim with them. These trainers are in the water with orcas for 5+ shows a day, every day. You can't compare apples to oranges.
        I am not saying it's right to capture orcas, but I do not feel that the whole story is here...

        • Deborah Stone

          First off I think keeping ANY animals captive is wrong. ..zoos, aquariums etc. bad idea.
          And when I said naive, I didn't mean it disparagingly...but seriously, aren't you aware of the plight of MOST people that keep their jobs even though the jobs are against their moral/ ethical ideology but they need to pay the bills and eat?
          Think agribusiness, pharmaceuticals....there's lots more.

          • hkp88

            Maybe I am because I would also believe that majority of people would not do that. I believe there are a few, but that many staying if it's against the moral/ethical ideology? YIKES I guess I like to believe the best in people. I just would like to know why people continue to work there, give me the other side of the story.

            • FLnursechick

              There are always other professions. If a person is that unhappy with the ethics of their profession, then they should change it. They may not make the same salary, but there are always options. I plan on watching this documentary since I frequent SeaWorld often. I would also like to be able to give an educated opinion on this topic since it seems to me that releasing these animals into the wild after years in captivity isn't necessarily the answer. Have they not lost some of their "instincts"? Those who don't approve of any animals being held in captivity.... do you own a dog, cat, fish, snake, hamster, rabbit, etc?? Just wondering.

  • Mary Kulik

    Yes, the trainers were, as you say "ordinary people, just like you and me and they got caught up in a situation they couldn't handle or control" and that was JUST THE WAY SEA WORLD WANTED IT! Sea World wanted kids that they could manipulate and train the way they wanted them to be trained and who would not question anything because they would not know any better. Why didn't Sea World go out and look for people with animal behavior or other pertinent backgrounds? Because they did not want them to question anything they were told. They wanted them to believe whatever Sea World told them to believe.

    • Deborah Stone

      RIGHT ON!!!

  • Patty Krymkowski-Hosmer

    Do you know to be a trainer at Sea World all you need is a high school diploma? They have a job posted on their website for a trainer and it only requires a High School dimploma and pay 13.64 an hour. WOW you should have to have some education beyond high school to work with Dolphins and Whales. Just proves Sea World is all about the money hiring uneducated people to work with these complex creatures. How does a only a high school diploma qualify you for this type of job. They do not want to hire professionals that are educated in this field as they would know enough to Question Sea World practices and Sea World does not want to pay them for being professionals in this field. So just hire some high school graduate that has no idea how to care for these wonderful creatures. At least they won't question sea world as they have no backround in what they are doing.
    I love these animals but I will never go to Sea World again and give them my money.

  • Dianne Snider

    Are you kidding? You didn't get the sense the trainers had remorse? Obviously you don't understand human body language. What about the fisherman at the beginning who was disgusted helping Seaworld capture whales and his sincere regrets. What about the trainers that were close to tears and emotionally stressed talking about the life of the whales? What about the former Seaworld executive talking about locking the whales away each night and how "it just didn't seem right and didn't feel good? You must have fallen asleep during the show to miss the emotional agony these trainers, fishermen, and professionals experienced from their actions in earlier times. Dianne Snider

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      The fisherman at the beginning (not one of the trainers, a fisherman) was the only one that exhibited any sense of shame. The rest of your "what abouts" came from people that tended to justify their involvement more than feel any level of shame for how long they were involved. Body language is one thing, saying the words is quite another and as I pointed out, Jett's choice in words were to say he stayed for Tilikum and that is all.

      • Mary Kulik

        No, the trainers in the film DID show remorse - NOW that they are older and more mature and understand what SeaWorld
        was doing to both them and the animals. Back when they worked there, they
        were young, naive, and caught up in the glamor of the whole thing. Who
        would have thought that SeaWorld really did not care about the animals -
        the whole world believed SeaWorld - don't hang this whole thing on a
        bunch of very young adults who were misled and lied to especially through the
        omission of the deaths.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

          You seem to have misread the article, I didn't hang anything on anyone, just wish the film would have asked some tough questions of the people telling the story. That's all.

  • Deborah Stone

    While

  • Deborah Stone

    While I do agree with Brad re: his statement that the trainers showed no responsibility, and they did keep on drawing their paycheck/ benefits etc. I don't think that matters, at least as far as the goal of the film....What DOES matter is that the documentary accomplished its' mission. It activated millions of people who were otherwise in the dark ( myself included) about SW's practices. No matter how many holes in the film we can punch, keeping orcas in captivity for profit has got to stop. That's what documentaries are supposed to do.....not deliver a "sugar coated" movie on the subject, but motivate the audience to action.

    • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

      "That's what documentaries are supposed to do"

      I'm confused as to what you mean by this statement and I'm also confused as to who is calling for any kind of "sugar coating".

      • Deborah Stone

        BLACKFISH is a documentary, not a "made for Hollywood" film. A documentary by definition is supposed to motivate and inform...that's what a documentary is supposed to do.....motivate it's audience agains the injustices it is documenting. If that was not the purpose of documentaries like this, ( animal injustice)....,than what is?

        I can understand that yes, lots of questions remained unanswered &
        lots more could have been addressed, but I think that's beside the point. It wasn't supposed to be a " screenplay" written by some one, with all the kinks ironed out. It accomplished it's goal as I see it..... brilliantly motivating & courageously done.

        • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

          Well, if we go by definition a documentary is meant to document, not actually motivate anything. It should present the facts and the audience then decides. It's not a courtroom where you only present the evidence that supports your cause. Documentaries approach with an agenda always run into trouble for these reasons.

          Thing is, I'm not even arguing against the motivations of the movie, just where it was lacking in what I believe are some important areas that would make it an even stronger, more emotionally powerful story.

          • Deborah Stone

            Yes I see your point. Documentaries are created for all different purposes & I can understand what you are saying.

            My own personal feeling is that any documentary dealing with "animal injustice" to the extent of this one is not meant for the audience to decide, since it's pretty compelling evidence that orcas are abused at SW. There's no "other side" to animal injustice. If there were, why hasn't SW done damage control?

            Honestly, if it were anymore emotionally powerful I don't know that I could have sat through it....I was devastated after I saw it.

            • http://www.ropeofsilicon.com/ Brad Brevet

              And I'm not arguing the points you're making here, but I still believe it's a documentarians duty to present all sides and ask the tough and uncomfortable questions to all parties.

              I think we both can agree, HAD Gabriela Cowperthwaite gotten someone from Sea World to participate in the film she would have certainly asked them all the tough questions. However, how high up would she have had to go before the audience could agree she'd reached the head of the snake?

              Would people be as forgiving of any of the trainers working at Sea World now had they been interviewed?

        • Thanatos

          The fact is was made to motivate is what puts it under propaganda rather than documentary. While it may be informative, it's presented with a very clear purpose to persuade you to a specific line of thought.

  • TheOneWhoKnocks

    What annoys me about movies like BLACKFISH is the fact that movies like it turn people into animal rights activists for only a short period of time. They see the movie, decide to fight the good fight, and then forget about after a short period of time. Just like a New Year's resolution, it quickly vanishes. As quick as a wink.

    Maybe this is just the ethical vegetarian in me speaking, but people who are so shocked about the events at SeaWorld should reconsider that hamburger. Just because one is considered abuse and the other is considered lunch doesn't make the latter any more moral.

    Just my two cents.

    • FLnursechick

      Good point.

    • http://yourpockets.isr MuhFreedums

      THANK YOU. somebody else who noticed that. all of a sudden they are experts in the subjects

  • Mike

    I think if we are going to attack SeaWorld then we should take a look at how the animals we eat are kept then killed for profit for us, Seaworld has 20 something whales there are millions of animals killed yearly. There are bigger issues than SeaWorld

  • Sam Steward

    I completely agree with this article, I thought the documentary was amazing and captured, if anything, the naivety of capitalism. However, I did feel some remorse for the trainers, especially taking into consideration their age, if you come out of high school and are told you have the opportunity to work with whales, you say yes. BUT, like Brad, I was waiting for the final question of "looking back do you feel bad?", "How do you sleep at night?", something to grill them a little. I believe this wasn't done because it didn't need to be, you can clearly see embarrassment and resentment in their faces.

    It's hard in the 21st century, when we are so conformist to such forms of entertainment (leisure parks), to get people to really take in and want to even watch what is branded as documentary (especially younger generations), Blackfish was done a bit "round the edges" (more like a drama) in order to make it more entertaining and more tense (especially the advert) so that people would want to watch it.

    I'm not creating an argument here, I just wanted to voice for a second :)

  • Amanda

    How can you criticize the documentary for not including Sea World's side of things when Sea World denied being interviewed for the film?

  • Dashiell A.T., esq.

    I think it's a little unfair to criticise the film for not mentioning other animals in captivity when it wants to stay on point about orcas and the incidents. Really, anyone with any sort of proper higher thinking skills would probably start to wonder on their own about how the other species at Seaworld might be treated too. Maybe if this film is successful it'll lead to a more all-encompassing documentary about the negative aspects of keeping animals in captivity.

  • El Jenko

    I found your review far more vague than the documentary. It's not particularly strong journalism to state 'There aren't many specifics when it comes to just how long each of them worked there, at least none that I can remember hearing anyway' either there was or there wasn't? It's your job to tell us besides we do know that each worked there long enough to be considered a 'trainer' or 'competent' enough to spend time with the animals. If they were there for a short time then Seaworld shouldn't have let them near the animals without the correct period of training. If they were there for a long time then their voice holds experience and authority. Either way Seaworld is culpable. I also feel you're missing the point with the trainers. They admitted that they weren't Marine Biologists or Animal Behaviourists when applying for the jobs, that the only employment remit was 'to be a strong swimmer'. The film presented and narrated by James Earl Jones was clearly a propaganda recruitment film designed to portray the role of a trainer as something exciting and exhilerating and did not focus on the scientific research or conservation at all. It was blatantly obvious that they were looking for athletic entertainers that care about animals rather than conservationists. The trainers clearly stated that they began to feel uncomfortable and that information was being held from them. Remember the interview when the trainer recounts that one of the managers shouted and seemed to overreact for getting to close to Tilikum but never explained why? Also your comment that 'Blackfish is successful in getting its message out I think it fails in giving us all the necessary information. I also think it fails in making this a larger topic. Yes, the subject of the film is killer whales, but what about every other animal in captivity' that comment is actually what compelled me to write this post. You want more detail but also a broader topic of all animals in captivity? Surely that is a contradiction? This was about the moral and ethical issues behind keeping Orca in captivity for the purpose of performance entertainment and whether this is justified with our current scientific knowledge of the Cetaceans. Not about keeping animals in captivity, there is good argument for this specifically breeding programmes for endangered animals and educational purposes. I fail to see what is educational about someone surfing on the back of a Whale? Documentary has to have a narrative and the narrative in Blackfish is strong. It's about Tilikum's life thus far and how mistreatment of an animal may cause behavioural problems. I believe that Seaworld wouldn't comment during the production of the film and were hoping that it would all blow over but this animal is now in their care and has been for some time, people have died and as a company they hold responsibility for their employees. They may be able to redeem themselves but that will involve immediate action by no longer profiting or endorsing performing animal shows and concentrating only on the conservation side of their company. Those are my thoughts and I'm sure some of you will disagree.

  • Taylor

    I disagree with the fact that you state that the documentary loses power by just focusing on one animal, the orca, and no other animals. In the film, it states that orcas are highly social animals, social on a level that is possibly higher than that of humans. Because of this, orcas have unique consequences to being kept in captivity that many other animals do not. The social structure is completely torn apart, they whales have no way to talk to each other, they cannot avoid conflict, and any family unit they may make is broken up repeatedly for entertainment purposes. The films focus is on how Orcas are effected by being held in captivity, not on other animals. It is not trying to destroy the zoos and aquariums and urge us to throw all animals back into the wild, it is saying that the way orcas are treated now needs to be changed, the animals need to be set free, and that we have enough evidence to support this. And either way, the narrow focus hasn't kept viewers from forgetting about other animals so it has opened up those discussions.

    • Taylor

      Also multiple sources gave commented on SeaWorld's reaction to the film stating their inaccuracies in accusation and showing just another instance where SeaWorld is trying to cover their asses

  • tansa richi

    To say that this was a summarily partisan is incorrect. You can see how attached these former employees were to the unique wonder of their jobs, which they ultimately left. Mark Simmons even tries to say that these shows would be accident-free under the right conditions - clearly some part of him still wants to believe that. Do you really expect a twenty-something who is paid $7.50 an hour and is deliberately misinformed to be a crusader? At least they spoke out later.

    You suggest that this film should take the leap to state that all captivity is inherently wrong. Is that really the burden of any documentary? Shouldn't an audience be able to apply this message to a more generalized theme? Trying to reduce this into two sides of a broader, polar argument does not acknowledge the humanity the film is trying to express, both in humans and in orcas.

  • Ignaceous

    Unfortunately, bias is something that smart people an the opposition can easily detect, and every time it was brought forth in this film made it more of a "preaching to the choir" message. They could've proposed middle grounds as opposed to the easy "Sea World is evil" approach.
    We have to understand that the world we live in is not ruled by morality, but money, and at the present time enough of it falls off the pockets of the lesser informed to keep spectacles such as these profitable. Once we come to terms with this cold fact, solutions can be brought up that benefit everyone, from the families funding this embarrassing phase of our civilization, to the park owners and even the whales themselves.
    Off the top of head, why not figure out a way to raise a pod together? It works very well for our circus human performers, so why not give that a shot? While at it, why not make a better effort to make their environment less of a prison and more like what it's like living outside captivity? I'm sure this would serve as a great P.R. stunt can make customers out of a great majority of the customers they keep losing as awareness grows. I'm sure that as our oceans increase to resemble cesspools, more and more of us will agree that they're safer with us, putting Sea World in a completely different position: a world where want them around.
    In the end, Sea World will not only make everyone happy, but raise awareness for these great creatures instead of insulting the intelligence of people smarter than they are who don't fall for their philanthropy gimmicks. Hell, I'll become a Sea World supporter if something along the lines as this is carried through - because there'd at least be a balance between all three parties - the whales, the audience and the park owners.

  • Justmythoughts

    Just finished watching blackfish. All I can say is what a one sided piece of $@&!. Any good this movie could have done showing the plight of whales in captivity was destroyed by the biased approach with which the film makers went on attack. Sea World was smart not to give comment to such a piece of chum!

  • TheModus Torn

    I hope every one of those trainers gets eatin alive by the whales.......I REALLY DO!!!!!!!