By Erika Emch
Movies that tend to be on Netflix have the reputation of being the ‘reject movies’ that weren’t good enough to play in the theaters or buy on a DVD. However, the documentary “Blackfish” has been sweeping the nation as one of the most moving documentaries of last year (2013). The movie focuses on orca, or killer whales, living their lives in captivity all across the world. One of the main whales since Shamu, Tilikum started off in Sealand of the Pacific in South Oak Bay, British Columbia, and traveled to Seaworld in Orlando, Florida, after a death at Sealand.
Tilikum was captured as a baby orca and was immediately taken to Sealand of the Pacific, which was just a float in a marina with a thirty-foot deep net and a metal storing unit for the evening hours when the park was not open. Three orcas lived in this facility and as they began to grow larger, the area was not quite big enough for them. This caused them to lash out at each other causing raking, which is defined as the way orcas show dominance by forcefully scratching at another with their teeth. This caused plenty of tension in the pool and when a trainer slipped on a puddle and fell into the water, Tilikum grabbed her leg and dragged her under until she drowned. After this offense, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) shut down Sealand of the Pacific.
Even though Sealand of the Pacific was closing for good, Tilikum still needed a home, so he was bought by Seaworld in Orlando, Florida. From the day Tilikum arrived, he was strongly disliked by the other orcas. He was much larger than the other whales, and given the limited space, the other whales were getting angry with him for getting in their way and would rake him with their teeth. Sometimes he would even be covered from head to fin with teeth marks from the other orcas. Due to this aggression from the other orcas, Tilikum began to lash out on other trainers, resulting in two deaths. One of these fatalities was Dawn Brancheau, one of the senior trainers at Seaworld. One of her coworkers even stated that, “Dawn was like a safety guru. I mean she was always double-checking, making sure everybody was doing the right thing…When I found out it was Dawn, I was shocked.” Even after many fatalities and injuries, Tilikum still continues to perform at Seaworld every day. Tilikum, nicknamed Tilly, is not the only orca whale to lash out at a trainer.
According to the documentary, Seaworld had a tendency to manipulate the minds of their employees. One of the trainers began working at Seaworld just a few days after Tilikum had been moved to Seaworld, and no one brought up the fact that he had killed one of the trainers. In the eyes of the public, it was all an accident and the trainer just drowned. Seaworld and other aquatic parks across the world kept blaming the trainers for all the fatalities and injuries as obviously the fault of the orca. All of the employees were brainwashed by the system. They were telling their guests that the orcas lived longer in captivity until about the age of thirty, but in the wild, orca whales live to be about one hundred years old. Also, they explained how raking of the other whales was a normal thing, and that all whales performed such actions to each other, which is entirely false. The third lie they told their guests was about the collapsed dorsal fin, meaning that instead of being completely vertical, it is extremely curved. Tilikum especially had an extremely collapsed dorsal fin, which is the result of the constant swimming in circles all day long. In the wild, their dorsal fins are completely vertical.
This documentary focused on interviewing previous Seaworld trainers as well as former trainers and employees from Sealand of the Pacific, and Loro Parque, located on the outskirts of Puerto de la Cruz on Tenerife, Spain, as well as many more. Also, the teams that captured the whales, representatives from OSHA, and mammal psychologists were brought in to share their ideas about whale captivity. Seaworld refused repeatedly to be interviewed for this film, and nearly every day tweets are posted about how “Blackfish” is completely false and is propaganda, when in reality, these daily posts are propaganda.
The final scene in “Blackfish” was all of the former trainers getting together and going to witness orca whales living in the wild in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of Canada. This was the most moving part of the entire movie. All of the trainers were in tears by how beautiful the animals were and how different they look in the wild versus captivity. The first thing they noticed was the vertical dorsal fins and no raking on their skin. “Blackfish” is not propaganda to shut Seaworld down, and is definitely a movie worth watching.