I wanted to be more educated this year, and one the ways I was going to achieve that was to watch more documentaries.
Well, I just watched Blackfish.
I know it’s been out quite a while, but I just never got around to watching it, and, just… urgh. At people.
I myself have been to Seaworld. I was…. 13? I think. It was a trip to Disney World, and I think I even came away with a Shamu toy. Obviously, 13 year old me didn’t think that much about the negatives of places like this. 13 year old me was excited to swim with a dolphin (who was called Rosie, btw.)
But ten years on (gosh, was that really ten years ago?) my eyes have been opened to what not only the animals have to go through in order for these shows to take place, but the impact upon human life too.
And those were the two messages I got from watching Blackfish, and I highly recommend you watch it too. It’s on Netflix, and elsewhere online too.
The film recounts the events in which Tilikum, a killer whale, is just one of many whales which are captured, through harrowing methods which left many whales dead and mothers separated from their babies. They’re taken to various sea parks throughout the world over the course of the film, including in the Canary Islands, British Colombia and San Diego.
Tilikum, the main whale featured in Blackfish, was first captured in 1983 when he was only 2 years old already 11.5 foot long. Whale trainers started training with Tilikum, using methods that involved punishment and food deprivation, not only to Tilikum, but to the other whales he was training with. If he didn’t get something right, the others wouldn’t eat, and so, hungry and frustrated they would attack Tilikum. Trapped in what is essentially a tiny box only a fraction of the size of the ocean they should have been living in, Tilikum had nowhere to escape as these other whales attacked him.
No wonder he was a bit mentally scared and unstable, right? Not only the fact that he had been mistreated but he was, pardon my french, a fucking killer whale – why would you want to frolic around a swimming pool with him anyway?
After Tilikum’s first victim at a park called Sealand of the Pacific, a trainer called Keltie Bryne who tripped and fell in his pool, he was sold on for breeding purposes. No regard for his actions and what he’d done, but sold on, where he was then put back into training with other trainers. A male victim was found dead in his pool one morning after evading security and staying in the park overnight. There was no evidence of what happened, of how he got in, or CCTV, but he died.
And then there was Dawn Brancheua, who worked at SeaWorld Orlando where Tilikum was moved to. During a typical routine one day, Tilikum grabbed Dawn’s arm and proceeded to maul her till she died. There were reports from SeaWorld that Tilikum went for her ponytail, and that it was her own fault for having her hair that way.
There have of course been disputes from SeaWorld and the people involved at the time, claiming Blackfish is lying, making things up, the former trainers had no idea what they were talking about.
But there are some things which cannot be disputed.
Animals this size, who are used to having the ocean to roam free in, should never have been kept in such a small space. No amount of mental stimulation and activities and training was going to replace what life was like in the open water.
The methods used to capture these whales was inhumane, and monstrous. There are reports that after some whales died during being captures, they were cut open and filled with rocks to sink the bodies. Hiding the evidence?
The methods used to train, involving punishment and food deprivation, were cruel and torturous.
If it was known to SeaWorld executives that Tilikum had been involved in the death of a trainer, why on earth would you allow him to be in the water with staff again? The fact that he was kept in these conditions and repeatedly exposed to this abuse and behaviour showed how little respect SeaWorld had for him as a creature, but also how little they cared about the human’s lives they were putting into contact with him. How preventable were these deaths? Incredibly.
I have stumbled across this page in my research around the documentary, and found many of SeaWorld’s opposing arguments to be… well, lies. It makes a bunch of claims that Blackfish gives the impression SeaWorld was involved in capturing Tilikum (it doesn’t, it gives a clear history of his capturing and how he went straight to Sealand of the Pacific), that they’re still capturing whales from the wild today (it doesn’t mention this), and that the capturing of whales was illegal when it took place. It gives a precise point in time when whale catching was made illegal off the shores of Washington and explains how they moved to Iceland to catch whales. It also refers to the capturing of whales as ‘collecting’ which just makes me feel a little bit sick that they’re putting this spin on the trauma and torture they put the whales through.
The whole page just screams scraping the bottom of the barrel to try and turn things round for them, but, while the website is called seaworldcares.com I don’t actually know how closely that is linked with SeaWorld itself. The name suggests a fair bit, but you never know.
Tilikum has since died, at the tender age of 35, which SeaWorld would have you believe is a good, typical age for Orca’s to live to, when in fact they live to around 60-100 depending on gender, and a 103 year old whale has just been found.
I am a person who has always enjoyed going to aquariums, nature reserves, and zoos, and during conservation classes while I was at university, I got to understand how much human intervention is sometimes necessary if we’re going to look after certain breeds and try to undo the damage that mankind has already inflicted on nature. But, I do also agree that these places are not always good, despite the huge strides they’ve taken compared to what they used to be. While places like SeaWorld use their animals for entertainment, and they are not the only ones, other places use lines such as ‘protection’ and ‘rehabilitation’ to cover up the treatment of animals and excuse the ways these animals are forced to live within the confines of some zoos etc.
I aim to thoroughly research this more, and make my own mind up regarding specific reserves or sanctuaries, including zoos, and take on board the work they do individually, rather than zoos as a whole.
Obviously, this documentary is made as propaganda against SeaWorld, but I find it hard to believe that anyone can watch it, even taking it with a pinch of salt, or even just hear the simple facts that killer whales are kept in pools much smaller than what they should be in, and still believe that what SeaWorld, and other places like it, are right and morally okay.
I also intend to do some more research in how I, and you, can help support the likes of Blackfish and their work, and look more globally at how other countries are tackling this issue of killer whale shows, hunting and capturing, and the ways in which we can make positive changes to the world.
I think this might be the longest blog post I’ve written on here, so thank you if you’ve made it to the end! Please let me know of other documentaries surrounding this issue that you know of and recommend, as I want to continue educating myself on it, but also other documentaries in general, as I do want to watch more on a wide range of subjects. Also, if you know anyway we can support killer whales and promote the prevention of any more being harmed, captured and trained, please let me know those too! Like I said before, I definitely recommend you all go and watch this, even if you’re already against whale shows and animals in captivity, I still think it’s an important watch.
(Also, all my sources are from the Blackfish documentary itself if not stated otherwise)