SeaWorld is known for its killer whales. The orcas are often what draws visitors to the park. At the same time, the company has received much criticism for keeping the whales captive and putting their trainers at risk. Blackfish, a shocking documentary about the killer whales at SeaWorld, has sparked quite a controversy. Now a California lawmaker is pushing legislation that would ban SeaWorld from using the killer whales for entertainment purposes, thus putting a stop to their shows.
Blackfish is a documentary that was released in 2013. It focuses on the killer whales held in captivity at SeaWorld, specifically, it tells the story of Tilikum, the 12,000 pound whale who is known to have killed several people since being held captive. Dawn Brancheau, a senior trainer at SeaWorld was killed by Tilikum in February, 2010. Her family was not involved in the film and say that if she were here today, she would still be working with the animals.
The feature length film was a “labor of love” for director Gabriela Couperthwaite. Blackfish shows shocking footage of killer whales, how they are treated and how they interact with the trainers. The film states that the orcas are “psychologically traumatized” by being held captive for so long and they eventually snap at their trainers. A review of by Variety is posted on the film’s website, which describes it as a “mesmerizing psychological thriller.”
SeaWorld calls the film “misleading.” Protestors have picketed the park and taken to social media sites to boycott the park. The controversy has not affected their profits, however. Trainers have spoken out about the whale’s well-being, saying that they are happy, well-fed and active. Being released into the wild would have detrimental effects on the whales, putting too much stress on them, due to the drastic change of environments.
Marine mammal trainer and former SeaWorld employee, Kyle Kittleson, has also spoken out about the safe treatment of the killer whales at SeaWorld. He defends the company for their humane practices and acknowledges that trainers accept the risk that comes with the job. “There is no harm being done to them,” he said.
He claims that Blackfish is a movie designed to elicit an emotional response and leads people into thinking they can make a difference by boycotting SeaWorld through social media posts. The film is 85 percent inaccurate though, according to Kittleson. He states that the shocking footage is used out of context in several parts of the movie, including a part where a trainer has a bloody face and it is implied that it was the result of a killer whale attack, when in fact, he simply hit a screen on the set of the orca show. He adds that trainers involved with the making of the film are likely disgruntled former employees.
The Documentary, Blackfish, has raised questions about the use of the killer whales at SeaWorld, however. Richard Bloom, a state lawmaker, has proposed legislation that would prevent the company from using the orcas for entertainment purposes. While the park would be able to keep the killer whales in captivity in their tanks, they would be banned from using them in shows and for the purpose of breeding, under the Orca Welfare and Safety Act. SeaWorld has not yet seen the documents, so they were unable to reply. Trainers, however, feel that it would be a better use of people’s passion and energy to save killer whales in danger of extinction, rather than protesting those held in captivity, who are able to bring a learning opportunity to people of all ages in a way that they could not otherwise experience.
By Tracy Rose