Home Year 2013 Blackfish (2013)

Blackfish (2013)

I'm sure this sort of behaviour is frowned upon in polite company.
I’m sure this sort of behaviour is frowned upon in polite company.

Twitter Plot Summary: A documentary about the killer whale(s) at SeaWorld, that were involved in the deaths of three people.

Five Point Summary:

1. Former SeaWorld folks dish the dirt. Good on them.
2. The first death. Scary stuff.
3. The name Killer Whale is clearly not just an attempt at irony.
4. That broken arm is gnarly.
5. Nice to see that SeaWorld made an effort to be represented… *cough*

It seems that as far as the general public are concerned, killer whales are loveable creatures – they’ve all seen Free Willy, of course, and this simple act of anthropomorphism, combined with years of regular public shows in various sea life centres globally, has created a public image of killer whales as being loveable beasts who perform tricks for fish and, in the case of Free Willy, help combat crime. Sadly that isn’t actually the case, as discussed in the documentary Blackfish.

Blackfish is primarily the story of Tilikum, a male killer whale who was involved in the deaths of three people at Sealand on the Pacific and later at Seaworld in Florida. Why did he choose to attack those people over a period of 20 plus years? Admittedly one of those deaths was that of a man who had broken into the facility and chose the wrong pool to take a swim in, but the other two were trained professional who knew the risks.

Interviews are conducted face to face with those directly involved in the shows produced by Seaworld in Florida, although markedly Seaworld refused to have any participation and manage to automatically mark themselves out as the bad guys as a result. Utilising a number of styles to make its point, extensive archive footage is used to demonstrate both the majestic beauty of these creatures and also the inherent risks involved in swimming with 5000 pound killer whales. Interspersing the archive footage and talking head interviews are brief animated segments featuring typewriter-style quotes from the court proceedings that followed each death. It keeps the narrative ticking along at a decent pace and never falls into the trap of retaining the same basic style throughout – variety is the spice of life and all that.

The limp fin was somewhat of a letdown.
The limp fin was somewhat of a letdown.

The documentary is not afraid to call into question the morality of capturing Orcas in the wild – they are intelligent creatures after all, and the point is made that the act of capturing those Orcas is on par with kidnapping human children. There’s also the ethics of how the whales were kept when not in their performing enclosure, with the conditions entirely unsuitable for creatures of their size and intelligence. Indeed, it seems that the act of captivity causes severe emotional and psychological trauma to them, which then leads to some form of understanding for why they would later go on to kill their trainers, either deliberately or through being overly playful.

It seems that, on the whole, there have been a ridiculous number of accidents, potential emergencies and areas of concern over the last 30 years of performances with killer whales which includes the three deaths covered in his documentary. However this alone does not appear to have been enough to restrict direct access to the whales, instead the same mistakes continue to be made and the risks never mitigated against.

Blackfish makes its point and does it well. It would have helped to have more input from the organisations responsible for hunting, capturing and making the killer whales perform in the first instance, but then as is often the case in these situations it’s rare for a documentary to provide opinions from both sides of the argument. Even without that side of the discussion, it still remains a thoughtful piece and food for thought the next time you find yourself visiting an aquarium.

Score: 4/5

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