I watch a lot of films, more than the average person. Once in a while I catch a film that really stays with me. Four days later and I’m still thinking about BLACKFISH. Nothing really shocks me these days, but this film definitely overwhelmed me. As you would expect, it’s very disheartening, but educational at the same time.
I come from a long line of animal lovers. Naturally, we visited Seaworld and various zoos several times a year. As a kid, you don’t necessarily think about the conditions these animals live in. You’re just excited to see them up close. As I got older, I came to realize these places only intended to profit from the animals. That’s not to say the people who work at these establishments have no concern for the animals they care for. It just means the higher ups have only one agenda: money.
BLACKFISH exposes this selfish motivation of greed & profit. The documentary has several interviews with former whale trainers who even worked with some of the whales made subject of the film. To my dismay, I came to learn that no real skill or degree is required to be a whale trainer. All you need to know is how to swim well and smile big. I always presumed you must be extremely knowledgeable in marine biology and have gone through years of extensive training. The training to become a Dallas Cowboy cheerleader is far more rigorous than training to swim with a killer whale.
The other revelation I had was when they discussed a whale’s dorsal fin. Naively, I was under the impression that the whales had control over the fin and the way it flopped over was part of a trick. Nearly all whales in captivity have a dorsal fin that flops over as a result of stress, diet, and the poor condition of the water they swim in. These factors soften the cartilage in the fin causing it to droop to the side. No one has ever seen a whale in the wild with a droopy dorsal fin.
Nearly everyone in the film (and those watching) became emotional when discussing their personal interactions with the whales. It’s very evident that these people love animals as well and wanted this job to develop a relationship with these beautiful creatures. They all soon found out it was not what they expected.
What was most unsettling was the extent this park went to, to hide that fact that whales become aggressive and frustrated after years of abuse and confinement. They want to disguise the fact that they are negligent. Much of the doc revolves around Tilikum, the whale responsible for the most recent attack on a human. Tilikum has been involved in three deaths in his lifetime, all of which did not come to light until recently. Several former trainers who even worked with the whale had no prior knowledge of Tilly’s history. One distraught trainer confessed that he stayed on for so long because he felt so much pity for Tilikum. His abuse and trauma was obvious to everyone around him. Tilly still lives in Florida spending most of his days alone in a small pool only to be let out on few occasions to do tricks or breed. Tilly is a valuable asset to the park because of his breeding capabilities. Watching his story, you almost pray for his death just to put an end to this poor animal’s suffering. There has been no record of an attack on a human by any whale in the wild. It’s hard to tell if the animals living so long in captivity would be able to make it in the wild. For example, just look at Keiko, the whale used in FREE WILLY.
The bottom line is that these animals belong in the wild. They are not meant to do tricks and bounce around beach balls for our amusement. As humans, it’s in our nature to want to learn about other cultures and creatures. However, humans are singlehandedly destroying the very thing they are trying to understand. One interviewee mentioned that if you can afford tickets to Seaworld, you can afford to take your family on a boat to witness these beautiful whales in their natural habitat. It’s ok to study these animals, but we have no right to rip them out of their own environment. Another former trainer said he would never take his children to Seaworld. He does not want his kids to believe it is ok for animals to live in captivity like that. I think this doc is so important because it gives us a definitive answer to why these animals attack humans. The next time it happens (and it will happen again), Seaworld will not be able to conceal the truth. Before, I had an idea that Seaworld was corrupt, but I never knew to what extent.
BLACKFISH told a truly compelling story. The film is presented really well. Many will argue that BLACKFISH is completely biased, but you cannot argue with facts, archive video, and court documents. The film is unsettling, but not nearly as disturbing as THE COVE (which I refuse to watch). It succeeds at providing information instead of just presenting shocking images like a PETA video. This film can be uncomfortable to watch at times, but I think it’s important for everyone to see what is happening right under our noses. Instead of throwing our hands in the air and feeling helpless, we can actively avoid these parks. We can tell others to do the same and we can support humane animal research. Seaworld parks may not close tomorrow, but this is a start.