I just finished watching the movie Blackfish – which is a relatively short documentary about killer whales, or orcas, and their lives in captivity. This is normally not something I’d cover in the scope of this blog, but I’ve always held a special fascination in my mind for these whales in particular. That, plus the recent death of my own dog, has moved me in sentimental ways to write this post.
A quick synopsis of Blackfish (there’s really no spoilers to be had, as it’s a documentary):
Many of us have experienced the excitement and awe of watching 8,000 pound orcas, or “killer whales,” soar out of the water and fly through the air at sea parks, as if in perfect harmony with their trainers. Yet, in our contemporary lore this mighty black and white mammal is like a two-faced Janus-beloved as a majestic, friendly giant yet infamous for its capacity to kill viciously. Blackfish unravels the complexities of this dichotomy, employing the story of notorious performing whale Tilikum, who-unlike any orca in the wild-has taken the lives of several people while in captivity. So what exactly went wrong?
The film was released and accumulated fame after being featured at the Sundance Festival, and has been aired on CNN and published to Blu-Ray since then.
The documentary is excellent. Old movie clips from SeaWorld shows of the past are brought to life in relatively good quality, and the interviews with former SeaWorld trainers are both disturbing and touching at the same time. Blackfish does a good job of showcasing the intelligent and magnetism of these magnificent animals. The movie is absolutely worth the purchase, especially if you’re a fan of powerful marine creatures.
However, it’s dark. Stories of fishermen capturing orca babies, or calves, and taking them from their mother. Grown men cry, on camera, about the “wailing” (no pun intended) by both mom and child after being separated. Family is an integral part of the orca lifestyle, as they often have great-great grandmothers still living in the same pod (family unit) as their great-great grandchildren. While human adults move out after a certain age, orca babies stay with their mothers for life.
Of course, the movie depicts several attacks and deaths of trainers involved in training what are often called killer whales. While it certainly is saddening, it should really be of no shock when this does happen. While they are friendly creatures by nature, orcas are trained killers – fully capable of taking down a great white shark for a tasty treat.
If that thing can die at the hands of a killer whale, then I want no part of that fight.
Trainers should be educated and accept this. Much like a soldier who signs up to die for his country, these trainers should be aware going into work every day of the risks they are taking. There are no guarantees in life, and being a killer whale trainer should not be taken lightly – is what I took from the documentary.
Ultimately though, what do aquatic parks like SeaWorld care about a death here or there? The truth? Absolutely nothing as of now.
SeaWorld Entertainment, Inc. Stock Quote & Summary Data
*Delayed – data as of Mar. 18, 2014
At nearly $32/share, they’re not exactly hurting. And while it might not be humane for people to be dying for company profits, there are certainly less humane deaths over money than at the jaws of one of the ocean’s great predators. Do you truly think the SeaWorld owner gives a shit about whether some no-name trainer dies in a show?
No. He’s too busy on his private yacht observing orcas in the wild.
But, may I remind you, that we, as a society, all feed into this. We keep flooding the entrance gates to SeaWorld, begging them to take our money in exchange for overpriced popcorn and Shamu jackets. It is we who have bought into SeaWorld as a destination, an experience. SeaWorld has simply manipulated the demand to see these creatures and turned it into a lucrative business.
Much like how oil juggernauts took the demand for oil and turned it into billions. Plenty of oil workers have died on the job. Orcas, much like oil, are the final product. These poor whale trainers were simply part of the materials needed to make the final product.
I sure hope the profit is worth it to SeaWorld executives.
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