This whole film could so easily have been on Upworthy, with one of those ridiculous clickbait titles along the lines of After Watching This, You Will Never Look At SeaWorld The Same Way Again, Ever. Had this been the case, I might never have watched it, so it’s rather fortunate that the title is Blackfish and that the film was hosted on Netflix, a much more agreeable website in my humble opinion.
With its ominous poster of an orca set against a black background, you would be forgiven for thinking this film is about how killer whales are just that: killing machines. In fact, it’s pretty much the opposite. The documentary studies the various killer whale attacks that have occurred since they have been kept in captivity by humans, noting importantly that such attacks have never happened in the wild. Furthermore, the film goes on to expose how SeaWorld not only tricks their employees into thinking that what they’re doing is good for the whales, but also how they’ve tried to cover up the attacks by saying it was a ‘trainer fault’, dispelling the idea that the whales might be unhappy or maddened by their surroundings.
It’s incredibly well put together, and they lay the facts out pretty clearly. I was quite impressed to discover just how social these animals are, and how large the emotional part of their brain is. On occasion, there is also video evidence showing just how brutal the orcas can be; perhaps the most horrifying of these is one where an experienced trainer is dragged to the bottom of a deep pool by his foot and held under for over a minute. Though he survives the ordeal (whoops, spoilers) it’s nevertheless a chilling sight.
One always has to be careful with a documentary like this, a documentary attacking a company. Though Blackfish‘s intentions are clearly good, they don’t paint a complete picture of SeaWorld and leave out the details of their better projects, such as their conservation efforts and research. SeaWorld have been more than happy to point this out in their counter-Blackfish campaign. While I believe many of Blackfish‘s points are valid, I do disagree with their anthropomorphisation of the killer whales, saying they have ’emotions’ such as grief and anger, as I don’t think this is very scientific. As always, one has to take the information presented with a pinch of salt, but at the very least you have to suspect that there is something fishy (buh-dum-tsh) about SeaWorld.
Having been to one of the SeaWorld parks and seeing the Shamu show when I was younger, the film has certainly made me feel uneasy about the whole affair and with both sides putting forward great arguments it’s difficult to know who to trust. Perhaps the only certainty is that the orcas are beautiful creatures and deserve to be treated with the utmost respect. If you don’t have an hour and a half to dedicate to this film though, I know a progressive rock band who wrote something more succinct but with the same basic message.