Review: Blackfish

Image from: suffolkvoice.net

Rating: 3.5/4.0 star

This documentary is a must-see for anyone, especially those interested in animal welfare. It follows the story of Tilikum, an orca, killer whale or blackfish, whichever name you prefer.

Tilikum, or Tilly was captured from the wild and we are shown what has happened to him since then, being shunted around various marine mammal parks. In one park the animals were kept in a tiny pen, here there was no chance to get away from one another and aggression built up, and as such Tilly was often ‘raked’. (Raking is the process whereby orca whales scratch each other with their teeth to assert dominance; Tilly was bottom of the social hierarchy.) The general consensus is that over the years being kept in unnatural proximity to other whales has made Tilly psychotic.

Orcas are highly social animals, often travelling in groups of 40-50 individuals, all of which are related. What SeaWorld and Sealand of the Pacific have done is taken a few of these individuals out of the wild, and placed them with other orcas they have no relation to. It’s not natural and no wonder aggression occurs.

Below are some orca facts that the film touches on:

  • Average Lifespan: Females: 50 years in the wild, 20-30 years in captivity ; Males: 50-60 years in the wild, 30 years in captivity (sometimes wild orcas have lived up to 80 years old)
  • Dorsal fin collapse isn’t common in the wild. There are several theories to it’s cause, but it may be due to swimming in small circles in captivity, due to reduced space.
  • There have been no reported fatal attacks on humans in the wild.

It should also be pointed out that orcas come from the same family as dolphins, an example of another mammal which should not be kept in captivity, but still is. There is a heart rending moment when one of the female orcas can be seen and heard screaming when her calf is taken away from her.

What I find shocking is that SeaWorld managed to hide many of the attacks on trainers as ‘incidents’ and often other trainers had no idea anything had happened. Hiding 70 human injuries really isn’t something to be proud of, and any trust you may have had in SeaWorld is certainly gone by this point.

I just feel sorry that Tilikum has ended up killing three people, it’s not his fault and it’s not the trainers fault. Imagine being kept in only a few rooms of a house, knowing there is a whole world outside where you once could go. The trainers themselves have mostly been brainwashed into thinking that what they do is actually helping the animals. The moment in the film when you hear during an orca show ‘The whales aren’t doing this because they have to, they are doing it because they want to’ set my teeth on edge. No, that’s a big fat lie, the orcas just do it because if they don’t, you won’t give them any fish.

SeaWorld’s official response to this documentary did make me laugh. It says the film ‘exploits a tragedy that remains a source of deep pain for Dawn Brancheau’s family, friends and colleagues’. I highly doubt that as they feature in the documentary, if they didn’t want to then they wouldn’t be in it. The family clearly think the world should know and rightly so. The statement then continues to try and make us look at the good points of SeaWorld, as it does carry out research as well as rescue and rehabilitation of wild animals. However, a zoological institution should know better than to continue to keep orcas in captivity. If they could just accept what they are doing is wrong, and release them back into the wild, then you could almost forgive them. Let’s hope no more human lives have to be lost before they take action.

The problem I have with this documentary is that it lacks the scientific background behind why Tilly, and other whales, shouldn’t be kept in captivity. Whales, and dolphins rely on echolocation and have brilliant hearing, so the noise of crowds and screaming is like daily torture. Consequently they are often depressed, and can even commit suicide (yes, they are conscious breathers).

However, at the very least this documentary should make you want to boycott SeaWorld (if you hadn’t already) and Loro Parque, in fact all marine mammal parks. If you want to see orcas or dolphins see them in the wild, it’s their natural environment. They are too intelligent to be cooped up, if we can fight for free range eggs, then we sure can fight for the freedom of marine mammals. I’d highly recommend watching The Cove, the Blackfish equivalent for dolphins, which provides a greater scientific understanding as to why we should leave marine mammals be.

Here’s a petition for the release of Tilikum into a seapen, as he is too damaged and old to be set free in the wild: http://www.change.org/petitions/seaworld-inc-humanely-release-the-orca-whale-known-as-tilikum-to-a-seapen-for-rehab

Sources:

http://animals.nationalgeographic.co.uk/animals/mammals/killer-whale/

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Captive_killer_whales

http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/pr/species/mammals/cetaceans/killerwhale.htm

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7 thoughts on “Review: Blackfish

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