Blackfish is the story of Tilikum, a killer killer whale. He has killed two of his trainers at Seaworld and possibly also an intruder into his pool. Killer Whales are awesome predators. They are massive: Tilikum weighs half a tonne and his dorsal fin alone is the size of a grown man. Any creature that hunts Great White Sharks should frighten a puny landborne animal like a human. The video below of a (non-fatal) attack that involves a trainer being dragged underwater twice and held there for over a minute, and only escaping by swimming and running on two mauled legs, shows that a human in the water is at their mercy.
Given this, you’d imagine that the companies that keep these whales – and have their employees swim with them – would avoid pissing them off. Yet various contributors to Blackfish give opinions to the effect that Seaworld sends the whales ‘psychotic.’ Huge animals that would usually swim a 100 miles a day are cooped up in tiny pens. And despite the whales being intensely social and family focused animals, the whales are routinely split from their pods for commercial reasons: heartrendingly when mothers are separated from their children they howl in distress for hours. These twin traumas of confinement and division brings out a vicious streak in these normally benign creatures. While in the wild they usually co-operate peacefully, in captivity they leave each other covered in bloody bite marks. And while there is no record of any wild Orca killing a human, there have been multiple killings by captive whales.
To make things worse Seaworld is dishonest. It dissembles to avoid responsibility for attacks. When one occurs the company’s response seem to follow a pattern: first claiming they were drownings and if that becomes unsustainable trying to blame the victim of the incident. Furthermore despite using education as a way to justifying keeping whales in captivity, they will mislead customers to prevent them realising what poor conditions the whales are kept in. In Blackfish, Seaworld staff are shown telling punters that the whales have a 25 year lifespan and live longer in captivity. Just checking wikipedia shows this is false: whales at Seaworld live 25 years; wild whales have about the same lifespan as humans.
I generally think of myself as being unsentimental about animals, so I was surprised by how angry Blackfish made me. How far this is down to: the extent of Seaworld’s cruelty, the quality of the film making or the fact that human beings are being hurt, I don’t know. However, I do know I won’t be visiting anywhere keeping captive whales anytime soon.
Oh and you want to know the scary part? Despite his deadly track record, Tilikum is still performing in shows at Seaworld Orlando!