When I started work on Blackfish, I could not possibly have imagined the effect it would have on SeaWorld. Let’s be honest. Not a lot of people see documentaries. And not a lot of people want to see a movie that sucker punches a beloved cultural icon. But it seems as though the movie has indeed changed how many view the park.
Over the past couple of years, SeaWorld’s visitor numbers have fallen, its stock has plummeted, lawsuits have confronted their business practices, legislation has challenged what goes on at Shamu Stadium, and reported profits were down 84% on the previous year.
People ask me whether this is a win. I can only say that it was inevitable, and that I hope it’s only the beginning. Today’s kids are increasingly becoming part of the “I can’t believe we used to do that” generation. They know that killer whales are not suitable for captivity.
Instead of acknowledging this, SeaWorld has decided to spend its way out of the crisis. With its glossy, protracted PR fight, it continues to claim it is battling an image problem. Yet I see no meaningful change. I guess this is what happens when a corporation operates essentially ungoverned for 45 years. But I know many of us still hold out hope that SeaWorld, in one final Hail Mary pass, will do something drastically progressive – like stopping their breeding programme. This would mean no more baby Shamus for SeaWorld. It would mean that the whales currently at SeaWorld would be the last it will ever have in captivity.
After this, SeaWorld could almost singlehandedly pioneer a sea sanctuary where it could retire the remaining whales. SeaWorld’s whales are unlikely to know how to hunt for their own food because they are given antibiotics and might die if they’re not in human care, so they can’t simply be tossed back into the open ocean. But a killer whale sanctuary would provide these animals with a massive, cordoned off, ocean cove where they could live out their lives in a healthier and more dignified way.
In a sea sanctuary they could echolocate on new and novel objects every day. They could experience the natural rhythms of the ocean. They would have more control over their lives and their choices. And this could be a profit-making endeavour for SeaWorld, with admission fees, a visitor centre, an underwater viewing area, etc. It’s hard to imagine people not showing up in droves to see these magnificent animals actually doing what they were meant to do. It’s infinitely more satisfying than seeing ailing, grieving, surface-resting animals performing tricks at a park.
Today’s kids are increasingly becoming part of the ‘I can’t believe we used to do that’ generation
There are sanctuaries for many animals, such as chimpanzees, elephants and tigers. Placing them in a setting that approximates to their natural habitat as closely as possible is, in some ways, the best we humans can offer animals that can’t be returned to the wild. But so far, there is no killer whale sanctuary. Such a move by SeaWorld would not only be seminal, it would be culture-shaping.
Without evolving alongside public opinion though, without showing a desire to shake up its antiquated business model, I can’t imagine SeaWorld bouncing back. It now risks becoming an artefact; an embarrassing relic from a less informed time.
People have stopped going to SeaWorld not simply because of a movie but because, it seems, we’re recalibrating how we feel ethically about animal welfare. Faced with uncomfortable truths about animal welfare, we’re clarifying what it means to be humane. We see it in discussions about factory farming and dolphin hunts. We see it reflected in the outcry about the last white rhino and Cecil the lion. We feel a collective empathy, and I think we’re at our best and our most principled when we’re exercising that empathy.
I hope this movement grows beyond the SeaWorld discussion. Maybe if we continue to consider how someone else is experiencing our footprint, we’ll walk more softly in general. And that’d be a win for the planet.
In St. Petersburg, Russia, the anti-captivity documentary film “Blackfish” (in Russia “Black Fin”) will be screened on 27 September!
Free screening of the documentary will be organized as the part of the VIII Conference “Marine Mammals of the Holarctic”. After this, a little discussion will be held with the involvement of Russian and foreign specialists with knowledges in the issue of keeping cetaceans in captivity and the realities of the use of cetaceans in the entertainment industry, both in Russia and in other countries. There will also be raised the question about captures of orcas for aquariums that are taking place in Russia.
We really shouldn’t be surprised that Blackfish didn’t get nominated. The Oscars are biased to begin with, and Blackfish is a criticism of a huge American corporation. There are too many politics involved.
So, chin up. Blackfish is already well-known and is making an impact. If nothing else, it is BAFTA nominated, and that’s a pretty big deal!
Notorious killer whale Tilikum is responsible for the deaths of three individuals, including a top killer whale trainer. Blackfish shows the sometimes devastating consequences of keeping such intelligent and sentient creatures in captivity. -IMDB
On Friday, my mother and I went to see Blackfish at our local theater. Upon telling her that I run this blog, she asked if I would post her response to it for her. I agreed, so here it is:
I am in mourning. I saw “Blackfish” a few days ago, and since I left the theatre I have been in a state that I can only describe as grieving. I feel such a sense of loss on so many levels, that it has taken me a few days of contemplation to be able to articulate what I think of this documentary. I decided to write this blog so I could give a voice to my thoughts.
For you to understand how I feel about this issue, I need to go back in time. As a child born in land-locked Kentucky, I only knew about orcas through my library at school. In the 1960’s, without computers or the Internet, I only had encyclopedias and a few picture books to learn about cetaceans. Even from the small pictures I looked at, I was in love with them. We were poor, so there was never a chance to go see them in the wild. Then I married a man who loved to travel, and I was transported to a whole new life of being able to see the world. We had two daughters, whom I taught to love and respect all wildlife, and we spent our yearly vacations looking for animals in the wild. These were the seeds that we planted that helped our youngest daughter grow into the amazing person she is today, an advocate for all wildlife. From a very young age, orcas were her favorite animal. She wanted to be a trainer, so we saved our money so we could take her to Sea World Orlando. I had written them about her, and we were given a “Shamu Encounter,” where we got to touch one of the orcas [Kalina, in case you guys were wondering; she had her 6 month old calf Tuar at the time]. That is when I discovered something about myself, and my belief was born that keeping cetaceans in captivity is wrong.
We made our way to Shamu Stadium and waited excitedly for the show to begin. Both of my girls were beside themselves with anticipation. The music started, and an orca came out. Then the oddest thing happened. As it swam around the tiny pool, I got sadder and sadder. I thought, maybe the music is making me sad. The feeling got so strong that I suddenly – and embarrassingly – burst into tears! The people around me must have thought I was nuts. Seeing that majestic, beautiful animal being made to perform in that tiny tank made me so sad that I actually cried.
In the next years, my daughter, Emily, studied orcas and learned about them in the wild. She spent a summer doing research on their vocalizations near Vancouver Island, and came home with a passion to teach people why it is wrong to keep them in captivity. She taught me the truths about captivity, about Sea World, and why this is one of the worst things we have ever done as humans to our fellow creatures.
So when I went in to see “Blackfish,” I thought I knew the facts and was prepared for what I would see. I wasn’t. Seeing those babies being taken out of the wild and hearing the plaintive cries of their mothers made me sadder than I can say. Hearing the heartfelt words of the past trainers who now fight so hard to free their beloved friends affected me deeply. Hearing about the lies from the people who hold these orcas captive made me so angry. But by far the worst image I have in my mind from this movie is of poor Tilikum hanging in a semi-catatonic state in his tank, rejected and alone and simply existing in the worst conditions for an orca. I cannot get rid of that image, and whenever I think about it, I cry.
I am not going to write about the arguments, or even the facts, because we all know them. What I will say is that if someone took me away from my mother as a child, locked me away in a tiny cage with no way to use my senses correctly, fed me the wrong food, forced me to interact with other people who used a different language, and forced to me have children – at too young an age – I would rebel. I would become so numb with anger, fright, and frustration, that I would do whatever I could to fight back.
So now I am in mourning. I mourn for the mother orcas who lost their babies, and for the babies who were torn away from their homes. I grieve for the orcas that have died far too young in a place they should never have been taken to. I cry for the orcas still in captivity, who live in a state of constant sadness. And I mourn for our collective loss of innocence as a species, us humans who once looked on animals with respect and honor, only taking from nature what we needed to stay alive. Now we think it is right to steal babies from mothers and hold hostage animals with superior intelligence and self awareness and force them to do our bidding.
What about the argument that these orcas love the human interaction they get in captivity? Ask yourself what you would do in a similar situation. Captive and homesick, would you pretend to placate your warden to get the food you need to exist? Would you learn to play the game so your miserable existence would not be quite as miserable? And if you finally couldn’t take it anymore, would you lash out at your keeper? The pathos emanating from orcas in captivity is palpable. I believe it should be obvious to anyone who sees them that all they want to do is be free. Given the opportunity, every orca in captivity would do a Free Willy and jump out of their pens into the ocean, making a beeline in their search for home.
I feel that every human should watch “Blackfish.” It was one of the hardest things I have ever done. I cried so hard that I shook. But it is our responsibility as caretakers of our water planet to repair the damage we have done by imprisoning these incredible creatures. “Blackfish” is a first step, and an important one.
I will never forget the moment when my daughter saw her first orca in the wild. This was a dream come true for her, and at that moment, I cried because of her joy. I will keep that memory with me forever, as I will the fervent hope that one day all orcas on our planet will be swimming free.
There are people in the wake of this film [Blackfish] who have come out and talked about what it was like to have worked [at SeaWorld] and have been like “I wished I had known you and known that you were making the film because I’d have loved to have given an interview and tell you about my experiences at ‘Sealion and Otter’ [stadium] or 'Whale and Dolphin’ [stadium] or the education department”.
And there’s veterinarians as well, who out of everybody know where the bodies are buried, and they have been in contact as well and been like “not only is everything in Blackfish correct but you’ve barely even scratched the surface”.
Gabriela Cowperthwaite, on the people within the marine park industry who have contacted her since the release of Blackfish.
I actually want to cry at how popular the Blackfish trailer is. This is an issue I’ve cared about for 3 years (I used to love SeaWorld until I helped OrcaLab research the northern residents - my eyes were opened to the cruelties of cetacean captivity) and now that almost 45,000 people have passed this video around…I truly feel that change is in the air and that cetacean captivity is reaching its downfall.
Here at OCD, we like to do things slightly differently, like wait until the end of January to publish our ‘Best of 2013’ list.
So here are the top ten films we saw last year, we cannot recommend every single one enough:
1. Blue is the Warmest Colour (La Vie D'Adele)
Winner of the Palme d'Or, Abdellatif Kechiche’s masterpiece, starring Adele Exarchopoulos & Lea Seydoux, is one of the best films I have seen in my entire life, let alone in the last year. Beautifully shot, mind-blowing and heart-wrenching performances. Simply stunning, a cinematic masterpiece. How storytelling should always be done. Watch out particularly for the bar scene at the beginning (above) and the cafe scene at the end, the most moving and truthful character and relationship development you’ll ever see.
2. Short Term 12
Adapted into a feature by Destin Cretton from his own short film of 2008, Short Term 12 is nuanced, delicate storytelling with a powerful message at its heart. Brie Larson shines as Grace, a supervisor at a residential treatment facility taking care of everyone but herself. The young cast provide brilliant support, particularly Keith Stanfield and Kaitlyn Dever as Marcus and Jayden, the rap sequence and shark story will steal your hearts.
3. 12 Years A Slave
Steve McQueen. Chiwetel Ejiofor. Michael Fassbender. Lupita Nyong'o. A true story so important and so moving, it’s difficult to understand why it isn’t widely known.
4. Side Effects
Very rarely am I tricked when watching a film. Soderbergh managed it here, and I loved every second of it. Mara steals the show as the troubled Emily, with great turns from Law & Zeta-Jones as two of the Doctors who treat her. A carefully crafted plot, allowed to play out beautifully by Soderbergh, in what was - at the time - to be his final film.
Watch it. Then make everyone you know watch it. You won’t believe it until you see it, then you’ll start to question a whole lot of things. Heart-breaking, anger-inducing. FUCK SEAWORLD.
7. In A World…
Winner of 'Best Screenplay’ at Sundance 2013, you’ll understand why only a minutes into the film. Bell manages to take a concept that on paper seems pretty dull, and turns it into a hilarious, moving, and brilliantly human film, where not one word is wasted. Not only the writer and director, Bell captains the film as its lead, one that you fall in love with instantly, and root for against all odds. Peppered with bizarre and brilliant cameos, with a great supporting cast, In A World will leave you grinning from ear to ear, and have you speaking in a trailer voice for weeks.
8. The East
Zal Batmanglij and Brit Marling’s second feature-length collaboration might not have the diamond-in-the-rough charm of 'Sound of My Voice’ but its a film that proves they’re more than a match for - and better than - the big players of Hollywood. A bigger (but still modest) budget allows for a more adventurous story, better cinematography and a cast including some of the best actors currently on the scene - particularly Ellen Page and Toby Kebbell. As with everything Marling, Batmaglij (and fellow collaborator Mike Cahill) seem to touch, you are guaranteed quality story telling told in an unconventional and thought-provoking fashion. It’s difficult to remind ourselves that these talented filmmakers haven’t been around for long. We cannot wait to see what’s next.
9. The Bling Ring
Somewhat overlooked by many, Sofia Coppola’s 'The Bling Ring’ is a very well put together piece of cinema. The story lacks depth, but so do those the story centres on, the shallow, celebrity-obsessed, media-fuelled youth - so in that respect it is a perfect representation of everything Coppola is trying to say. The performances from the five leads are pitch perfect, they are easy to hate and yet we can find ourselves very easily sucked into their world, wanting to see just how far they will get. Based on a shocking true story, the film is beautifully shot, and there are certain facts uncovered that suddenly make the story seem inevitable, in fact, why had this not happened before? Coppola lets the story breathe, which works wonders, she doesn’t need to preach anything, she simply holds up a mirror up to Hollywood, and Hollywood does the rest. It’s not a pretty sight.
10. The Call
The film last year that we found ourselves sitting on the edge of our seats throughout. The film we saw last year that had the most active audience participation. People were gripping their seat arms, shouting out 'No!’ on multiple occasions. If you wipe from your memory the last 60-90 seconds of the film, you have yourselves the perfect example of a thriller.
I just saw Blackfish, it was the most moving thing I've ever watched. Is there any way I can help stop captivity? Or just help in general?
For starters, don’t visit any facility that has captive cetaceans! One of the most important things is teaching friends and family about this as well. People who know nothing about the struggles cetaceans have in captivity, who think places like SeaWorld are all sunshine and rainbows, should see this film. (I mean truthfully, everyone should see it! It’s coming out in my city this week, I am excited to finally see it.)
For further ways to help, you can visit the Blackfish website. I hope I helped, and I am glad you are passionate about this! If you have any further questions feel free to message me. :-)
Blackfish is a documentary about Tilikum, a killer whale held in captivity to perform in marine shows, and its involvement in the deaths of 3 persons. It also discusses the consequences of keeping orcas as captives.
I’m not the biggest animal lover living but this just moved me. This isn’t just a film, it’s reality. It’s heartbreaking how greed can turn people into inhumane beings. And I think, the name “Killer whale” doesn’t suit a highly social and intelligent creature. We are the real enemy.
Hi! I was wondering if you had any thoughts on the movie Blackfish and the captive whale debacle in general?
Blackfish gives me an uncomfortable feeling… not because of the subject matter, but because it is a “documentary.” While they may have a point, many films in this vein rely on sensationalizing the truth for *dum dum dummmm* DRAMA. They often have a very specific message in mind and have no problem using outdated footage / material, cutting interviews, and ignoring opposing viewpoints in order to show that their view is the correct view.
I would much rather prefer to watch a dry, fully sourced, scientific documentary that shows BOTH SIDES about a topic (especially in regards to animal welfare), and allows the audience to come to their own conclusion… but that doesn’t really get general audiences interested.
So, you really believe all of PETA's bullshit? The FOR-PROFIT Blackfish? Really? You honestly are going to put what are essentially house dogs of the sea into a world they have never explored? Where there are animals they practically have NO IDEA how to defend themselves against? Cost TENS OF THOUSANDS OF PEOPLE'S JOBS BY DOING THIS SHIT?
It’s really very insulting to compare an orca to a dog. They are sentient and recognize themselves as individuals. They are not dogs of the sea.
So it was okay for the ones captured from the wild and torn from their mothers sides, where many were killed in the attempts, and the entire southern resident killer whale population was nearly devastated by the entire generation of calves being stolen? Because that population is critically endangered, largely in part to SeaWorld’s demand for orca. There are about 81 total southern resident orca left in the world. Was it fair to throw them in tanks they’ve never known? Because that’s still happening, in other facilities in other countries which were built based on Seaworld’s success.
Also, did you even read the fking paragraph next to my ask button or did you pretend to not see it?
I’m against PETA they’re disgusting. We anti caps have been here since the 1960′s protesting the capture and keeping of cetaceans. So unless someone has a time machine, I highly doubt blackfish is the only reason we’re anti caps.
Procraps don’t have any real sources, they have zero evidence to back their claims that the animals do well in captivity…While we Anti’s have mountains of evidence to back our claims that they are not thriving well.
For the record you should probably pay more attention before directing your anger at me. Whos jobs exactly do you mean? What tens of thousands of jobs? Do you honestly believe there are that many people directly working with the orca currently? And who says they wouldn’t have a job helping the orca in the sea sanctuaries and retirement planned sea pen coves which you (probably) ignored me mentioning right next to my ask button?
anything! Before you ask, no, we do not want to release the captive
cetaceans into the wild, they would die. They have health risks which
make it impossible for them to survive. What we want is to retire them
to a large Sea Pen or private island waters/Sanctuary, netted off from
the ocean. They need vital human care due to their illnesses and broken
teeth! We want to RETIRE them, not RELEASE them. Thank you for reading!‘
Unless you are a troll deliberately trying to rile me up, which you could very well be, I suggest YOU do a little research before you come here pointing fingers and spouting of about PETA. PETA is horrible and we do not support them. There are a very, very few well worded and not disgusting things they’ve done for anti cetacean captivity but it will never erase the terrible things they’ve done outside of that.
If you feel like reading more about what we would do for the whales once retired please see FAQ #6
I also suggest you read all of my FAQ’s because it sounds like you desperately need to look at both sides of the coin here. (Pasting from my petition post where they can be found attached to the original)
I’m adding some helpful links here since this got more popular and
more notes than I’ve ever had, a few people posted things varying from
not being sure what to do with the orcas if this passes, not having any
understanding of why we’re fighting for their retirement to sea pens,
and some straight up Pro-captivity propaganda. Since I may not be able
to catch every question I get via notes since they’re going up very fast
right now, I’m going to link a few of my replies here so people have a
better understanding of what we’re fighting for and why.
images in the replies may be graphic, but please bear with me- If we
don’t see whats going on, if you don’t see it with your own eyes, you
can convince yourself everything is okay, and it isn’t.
6. Again about releasing the whales(and
even more in detail than the other two. This one is entirely dedicated
to why we cannot release the whales and how we want them retired to sea
pens and sea sanctuaries!)
Also for your information, Blackfish was not For Profit. It sounds like you just read SeaWorld’s truth page which is probably 100% actual lies.
The production cost to make Blackfish was around 75-79,000$.
The Oscar-winning documentary “The Cove” told the story of the dolphin
hunt in the Japanese town of Taiji. Dolphins there are driven into a
shallow cove and killed for meat and other products, with a select few
set aside alive for sale to dolphinariums. Many are now saying that this
year’s documentary on killer whales (Orcinus orca) in captivity, “Blackfish,”
will be nominated for next year’s Oscar. Documentaries rarely get many
viewers in movie theaters, but Blackfish, which cost only $76,000 to
make and was initially released at only five movie theaters, has already
grossed about $2 million nationwide and has been ranked among the 10 best performing nature documentaries, which include “March of the Penguins” and the much vaunted IMAX-friendly “Earth” and “Oceans” documentaries.
Now please tell me, in the great big world of for profit films, Blackfish managed to get around two million dollors, which likely has gone back into working on other productions. Do you have any idea how many more millions most films make? And even if it WAS made ‘for profit’ which it wasn’t, it does not change that most of what is said is true. I have never told anyone to base their entire argument against SeaWorld on this film, and have even encouraged people to research outside of it after viewing it.
Documentaries do not typically gross well in theaters, which is one reason we can be fairly sure it was not done entirely for profit.
I’m normally a very nice person but when I get snotty asks don’t expect me to be nice in return.