Blackfish (2013)

blackfish poster 2013 movie
8.5 Overall Score

Pretty damning portrayal of SeaWorld

Some claims that the documentary was biased, no real solutions to the problem

Movie Info

Movie Name:  Blackfish

Studio:  CNN Films

Genre(s):  Documentary

Release Date(s):  January 19, 2013 (Sundance Film Festival)/July 19, 2013 (US)

MPAA Rating:  PG-13


Dawn and Tilikum on the day of the fatal performance

On February 24, 2010, a Sea World trainer named Dawn Brancheau was killed by a male killer whale named Tilikum during a performance.  The court case paints a picture of lies, animal abuse, and a whale with a history of violence.  Tracking the history of Tilikum and how SeaWorld operates, a question arises surrounding the treatment of the majestic animals when trapped in captivity.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Blackfish was produced by CNN Films.  The documentary was released at Sundance to high praise then released in theaters in the summer.  The film was criticized by some of the parties involved for the portrayal of Sea World and individual portrayals.  SeaWorld also accused Cowperthwaite of obtaining illegal documents involved in the court case in the making of the film.


An attack in 1971

I have been to SeaWorld.  I went in the ’90s on a spring break to the San Antonio branch.  I do have a love for the sea and in particular seals and sea lions.  Even in high school there was already controversy about keeping these animals captive (spawned by the popular series of Free Willy films), and I wondered how such big animals could live in small spaces…now it is even worse knowing more of the truth.

Documentaries are almost always subjective.  I’m in the vein that zoos (more so than water parks like SeaWorld) can do good to help animals.  Through conservation and education, they can make a difference for animals if they are done correctly.  Unfortunately, for large animals like whales and dolphins, the normally endless territory of the ocean is cut down.  That cannot be denied; what can be denied is what that does to an animal.


Is there a bond?

The movie does a good job showing its point.  It talks to former trainers and SeaWorld employees who have virtually all changed their opinion of the park since working there.  SeaWorld allegedly was contacted for involvement but logically could not take part in the documentary (I can’t really blame them in that aspect).  Though SeaWorld and its practices are shown as the bad guys, the trainers you can tell do have conflicting emotions…they did love the animals.

The path of Tilikum is an interesting and scary one.  The movie presents a whale that has potentially killed three people and still is paraded in front of audiences because he is a good breeding whale.  It is a sad case and he is a dangerous animal…what should be done with Tilikum is a bit of a mystery that the film provides little answers for…he cannot return to the sea without being a danger to himself or people.


If there is any inherited genetics disposition for violence, SeaWorld might have a problem

Blackfish is an interesting documentary that raises a lot of questions.  I am not a huge fan of documentaries that point at faults with no solutions…that is easy.  I do wish that the movie had provided more answers to the problems being faced with the potential of “retiring” these creatures.  If they have the potential to live as long as humans, there needs to be more of a plan and not just finger-pointing.

Author: JPRoscoe View all posts by
Follow me on Twitter/Instagram/Letterboxd @JPRoscoe76! Loves all things pop-culture especially if it has a bit of a counter-culture twist. Plays video games (basically from the start when a neighbor brought home an Atari 2600), comic loving (for almost 30 years), and a true critic of movies. Enjoys the art house but also isn't afraid to let in one or two popular movies at the same time.

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