‘Blackfish’ Documentary | My Personal Thoughts + UTA Students Weigh In


If you haven’t seen Blackfish yet, you need to check it out. The documentary about SeaWorld has been making waves, and not just among animal activist groups. I got to interview some UT Arlington students about the film for work.

An excerpt from my article, originally published on The Shorthorn, UT Arlington’s student news website, on October 23, 2013:

A killer whale named Tilikum killed Dawn Brancheau, one of the most experienced trainers at SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla., on Feb. 24, 2010. This was the third time the whale was involved in an incident resulting in a human death.

“Why is SeaWorld surprised that a wild animal did this?” university studies senior Tania Rodriguez said. “You isolate them from their natural environment and put them in a tub, and then you wonder why this happened?”

Rodriguez, who is a member of the Mavs Marine Biology club, says she recently viewed an online trailer for the documentary Blackfish. It spiked her interest, because she recalled Brancheau’s incident from 2010.

The film made its premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival in January and has been well received by critics, receiving a 98 percent “Certified Fresh” rating from Rotten Tomatoes. It has also made an impact on pop culture — after seeing the documentary, the directors of Finding Dory made the decision to modify their animated movie’s depiction of a marine animal park. CNN will broadcast Blackfish 8 p.m. Thursday.

blackfishMy personal review:

This documentary will change everything you ever thought you knew about SeaWorld. I mean seriously, even Pixar changed part of their Finding Dory movie script after seeing Blackfish. I saw it while it was showing at The Angelika Theater in Dallas, and it was amazing. It was intense…I had a lump in my throat the entire time.

When I saw the film, I was already aware of the issues and had strong convictions about keeping wild animals in captivity, from personal research and watching The Cove. However, I think Blackfish did a phenomenal job of articulating a very complex topic.

Not only did the documentary highlight the ethical implications of SeaWorld’s practices, but it also addressed the fact that if it was not for SeaWorld, many people would not have the chance to make a connection with these animals. I appreciated the presentation of this nuance. It is nice to be able to visit these animals up close and personal, but if we really care and love these creatures, we must put ourselves in the their position…what is the price of captivity? It’s an ironic issue, because parkgoers are often animal lovers, but they don’t realize what the animals are really going through. In the end, the exposure of the exploitation and the message about our capacity for caring about these amazing creatures is pretty simple, though. Friends who saw the documentary told me it changed their life.

“I think it has reached people way beyond the usual activists like myself,” Lochlaer said. “For me and others I spoke to at the screenings, the film really brought home the degree of suffering that these animals experience, and it really shows the danger that places like SeaWorld put their employees and trainers in for the sake of entertainment.” (Originally published on The Shorthorn, UT Arlington’s student news website, on October 23, 2013)

All images above are from the Blackfish Movie’s Facebook page.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite, director of the documentary Blackfish, hosted a Reddit forum that to engage the audience with Q&A and discussions. She also released a statement about why she made the film. To me, she is a brave and inspiring soul.

Excerpt from filmmaker’s statement:

I knew immediately that I wanted SeaWorld to have a voice in the film. We e-mailed back and forth for about six months. I gave them every chance to talk, but they eventually declined. At that point, however, I had already began peeling back the onion. And my journey of shock and discovery was well underway.

I have made television documentaries for 15 years, but “Blackfish” is my second feature documentary and my first one to have found theatrical distribution. I can’t say this was an easy film to make. There were nightmares, too many autopsy reports, sobbing interviewees and unhappy animals.

And I was scared. SeaWorld is a $2 billion a year entity, and they’ll do anything to protect their greatest asset: Shamu. But as I moved forward I knew that in telling this story in an honest and fact-driven way, I was telling the truth. It sounds cliché but it’s really that simple. At some point you’re simply compelled, in spite of yourself, to tell a story that needs to be told no matter how scared you are of an entity that could squash you.

CNN will be broadcasting Blackfish Thursday at 9/8 Central. It will be available on DVD and Netflix on November 12th of this year. If you see the movie, please let me know about your thoughts in the comments below.

Do wild animals belong in captivity? You can already guess my answer, but I encourage you to see the film and make the conclusion for yourself.

12 thoughts on “‘Blackfish’ Documentary | My Personal Thoughts + UTA Students Weigh In

  1. Andrea Fleeman says:

    Wild animals definitely do not belong in captivity. The only exceptions to this are in instances where the animals are injured and being rehabilitated, and in the case of endangered species in breeding programs. Education? Yes. Exploitation? NO!

  2. Brian Lochlaer says:

    I’m watching Blackfish for the third time… It doesn’t get easier with repeat viewings. Keeping these animals in tanks, forcing them to breed, treating them like circus clowns–indeed, harming them in any way? It should be so easy for anyone to see that this is wrong.

  3. Ari says:

    Sea World Central Florida does more good for Animals and the Environment then all the other companies combined. There are nearly identical documentaries about the unethical nature of keeping dogs as house pets! This is just extremism at it’s worst.

    • missannmai says:

      Thanks for reading and commenting, Ari.

      I honestly wish I could believe that SeaWorld does much good work for the animals and the environment, but after finding out the truth, I cannot accept what they do to the animals at all. It cannot be denied that what SeaWorld does to the whales is unnatural and unnecessary.

      There are animal sanctuaries that truly help animals who are endangered or need help (such as Marine Animal Rescue and Pacific Marine Mammal Center) but SeaWorld is definitely not one of them–they use the animals as entertainment to get more people into the parks. From what I have learned, it is clear their first interest is not the animals.

      Far from extreme, the documentary shows insights from credible sources, including marine animal experts (these are people who have really studied these animals and know what they are talking about) and former trainers from SeaWorld. In Cowperthwaite’s statement about the film, she explains that she really tried, for six months, to include SeaWorld representatives in the film, but they declined every time. SeaWorld has also been inconsistent with the way they answer questions about Brancheau’s death.

      Who would I believe, the multibillion dollar corporation that profits from using orcas as entertainment, or an investigative filmmaker who seeks to find out the facts?

      I wouldn’t compare keeping dogs as house pets to keeping wild animals like orcas in small spaces in captivity for the sake of mere human entertainment. I don’t think it would be extreme to say that killer whales are definitely not naturally inclined to performing tricks for human whims. They have strong family bonds, and we break them up so we can watch them swim around a pool and perform for our amusement. I fail to see how this does any service for the animals or the environment.

      Of course, you are free to have your opinion, but I would recommend that you at least watch the information presented in the documentary and see for yourself.

  4. Tim Johnson says:

    This is a family connected mammal. The males stay with their mothers’ for long periods of time, into adulthood. Separating them is cruel and mean spirited. Sea World has no right to hold them in tanks that are so much smaller that their natural habitat (100 KM squared) it is unimaginable. Make your money another way. Release these wonderful creatures back into the wild. Sad as it maybe some many never be able to go back, what an injustice.

    • missannmai says:

      Yes, indeed. Thanks for your comment, Tim.
      Have you seen the movie?
      I think it does a great job presenting how killer whales really live in the wild–I am so glad it is getting so much exposure. It does way more to educate than what SeaWorld currently practices, of course.

      People say they love these majestic animals–wouldn’t it be a better experience to observe them in their natural habitat, living to their fullest potential, vs. seeing them perform in a small pool that they were not intended to live in?

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