The Blackfish Documentary – Should Killer Whales Be Held In Captivity?

Posted at November 14, 2013 by Christopher Mollo on category Cool Stuff, Current Events, Entertainment, Movie Reviews, Rants & Raves, Thoughts & Insights

by Christopher Mollo

I recently watched the new documentary Blackfish.  Blackfish is a newly released documentary that tells the story of Tilikum, a 12,000 pound killer whale, and his involvement in 3 deaths up to and including the death of 40-year old SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau. During a “Dine with Shamu” show at SeaWorld Orlando on February 24, 2010, Tilikum seized the veteran trainer by the ponytail and pinned her to the bottom of the pool, drowning her.  The thing that really blows my mind is that Tilikum has been involved in 3 suspicious deaths during his time in captivity, yet he was allowed to return to performing in SeaWorld shows roughly 13 months after Dawn Brancheau’s death!  On top of that, it’s been alleged that he may not have been held in a very stimulating environment in the months previous to his return to performing.  This could lead to more unstable behavior from Tilikum and may increase the risk to his trainers.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA)  fined SeaWorld and also instituted new procedures that determine how orcas and their trainers can interact.  For instance, now trainers must maintain a minimum distance and/or a physical barrier between themselves and orcas while in the water.  This ruling has obviously affected SeaWorld dramatically, as the main attraction at the park was the orca shows in which the magnificent animals launch themselves and their trainers through the air, and the trainers use their bodies as surfboards and gracefully glide across the water.  As I’m writing this, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit is now deliberating about whether or not requiring minimum distances and physical barriers between orcas and trainers/performers will stand.  I think that the ability of SeaWorld to stay in business might just rest with this decision.

Blackfish: Troubled Orca’s Early History

As I watched Blackfish, I became more and more intrigued by these awe-inspiring animals.  I learned a lot about killer whales, most notably that they aren’t even whales.  They’re actually dolphins.  More importantly, I started to see how much like us they really are.  They’re highly socialized animals, with strong family bonds and a highly evolved set of emotions.  They can communicate well with each other and even have their own languages.   In fact, they’re language skills are so advanced that each family unit, known as a “pod”, has it’s own distinct dialect of sounds.  They can easily recognize other members of their own pod for miles away.  Orcas also have the second biggest brains of all marine mammals.  Maybe this explains their ability to learn local dialects and teach one another new ways of hunting.

I took in all these facts and I was very impressed, but it wasn’t until I saw a part of the movie where a baby orca was taken away from it’s mother that I began to see the “human” side of these beautiful creatures.  I could see how heartbroken the mother orca was. I could hear the pain in her screams.  It was a terrible feeling.  Inside I knew right away that these animals should never be held in captivity.  I would liken it to a human being being imprisoned, only worse. As far as I know human prisoners aren’t forced to perform for hundreds of gawking adults and children every day!

I now feel that human beings have no right venturing into the killer whale’s home, capturing it, and then forcing it to perform in front of screaming crowds.  The worst thing about all of this is that I feel it’s only being done for profit.  Is it that important for us human beings to be able to go and see these animals in captivity?  How much does one actually learn by going to one of these whale shows?  Can one be sure that the facts being presented at these shows are even accurate?  I’ll never know, because I will NEVER go to SeaWorld and pay to see these breathtaking creatures.

I will continue to educate myself about killer wales.  I have definitely fallen in love with these interesting and intelligent creatures.  I do hope to see a killer whale up close one day.  However, I don’t want to see one in captivity.  If this article interested you or at least peaked your curiosity, I recommend you pick up a copy of Blackfish, and be prepared to be blown away!


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