Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Blackfish (2013)


Gabriela Cowperthwaite's gripping documentary takes a harsh look at the impact that prolonged captivity has on both the killer whales of SeaWorld and the trainers who care for them.

Looking back over a number of decades, Blackfish tracks attacks on numerous SeaWorld trainers with a number of them resulting in the deaths of the trainers directly caused by the animals they cared for. But the blame is not laid at the feet of the people who spend every day with these majestic creatures.

SeaWorld itself is on trial in Blackfish. The company is accused of distorting information, evading animal care and capture laws and bare faced lying about scientifically proven information to both their own staff and the public. Many of the people interviewed in the film, all "former" trainers rather than any current ones, were ashamed to say how little they actually knew when training them. Killer whales don't live for around 25-35 years like they're told by their SeaWorld managers, they naturally live very similar lifespans to humans. And those curled dorsal fins, like the famous Tilikum has? Not a single documented case in the wild, but common enough in captivity to convince trainers that it happens to about 1 in 4 males.

The most emotional reactions that Cowperthwaite manages to elicit aren't about the physical health of the animals. Killer whales are incredibly intelligent animals and as a consequence have very powerful emotions. These incredibly social creatures who spend their entire lives with their families. One interviewee recalls capturing a whale calf and separating it from its family and describes it as the worst thing he's ever done or seen, despite being part of a number of violent revolutions in Central and South America.

Later there is a sequence dealing with removing a captive-born calf from his mother to ship him to another park. You might not believe that whales are all that intelligent, but when you hear the prolonged, desperate cries from a mother to a son that isn't there, you'll damn well believe that they can feel.

Emotional toll is present on most faces of most people seen here. The people who worked with the creatures have been lied to. They got into the job because they love animals so much, yet it's only through spending so much time in the system that constantly lied to them, and made them lie to the public, that they realised how much damage they really enabled.

It's an incredibly sad so much harm has come to both animal and man through places like SeaWorld. They can claim scientific research as much as they like, but seeing a huge, mystical beats performing like a dog before going to a small tank to cry, or the grieving families of a trainer who died at the hands of something they loved and you can see how wrong this whole thing is.

In the same way I'm glad animal circuses are (mostly) a thing of the past, Blackfish is a film that makes me hope my children will grow up in a world where attractions such as SeaWorld are a barbaric regret rather than a reality.

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