Rated PG-13 | Time: 1:23
By MICHAEL OSULLIVAN
The Washington Post
Its upsetting and scary to watch the footage of orca attacks collected in Blackfish, a damning documentary about the treatment of the animals by marine parks, where they have long performed water tricks in front of paying customers.
Its upsetting not just on account of the human victims, some of whom died horrible, grisly deaths, but also on account of the attacking animals, who dont seem very happy to be there, to say the least.
So its understandable that the management of SeaWorld the marine park that takes the brunt of the films many criticisms, and whose business model relies heavily on its aquatic shows is also upset. Recently, the public relations firm 42 West, which was hired by SeaWorld to respond to Blackfish, released a point-by-point rebuttal of what it calls eight misrepresentations in the movie. A few days later, the filmmakers issued their own rebuttal of SeaWorlds rebuttal, all of which can be read on the films website.
Without getting into the details of the back-and-forth, its safe to say that SeaWorld comes across as a mite defensive. After all, McDonalds didnt even issue a press release after Morgan Spurlocks Super Size Me came out. Sometimes its best not to call attention to the people who are pointing fingers at you.
Especially since SeaWorld is not the only marine park the film looks at. Other parks are taken to task for their orca policies; SeaWorld is merely the largest, best known and most vocal of them.
The core assertions made by filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite are shocking, even if theres some dispute as to their accuracy. Number one: Captivity doesnt seem good for orcas, who are highly intelligent, sensitive mammals. They tend to have a higher mortality rate living in parks than they do in the wild, the film notes. Whether thats true or not, captivity certainly doesnt seem to be good for their trainers. The number of incidents in which SeaWorld employees and others have been jostled, attacked, injured and killed by orcas either by instinct, accident or as the result of what the film calls captivity-induced psychosis appears to be way higher than most of us think.
(In case the film isnt graphic or disturbing enough, the Orcahome website has compiled a well-documented list, including video, itemizing dozens of frightening and sometimes fatal encounters between humans and performing killer whales.)
Adding weight to the accusations against SeaWorld is a 2012 ruling by OSHA requiring SeaWorld trainers to work with the animals only in the presence of a physical barrier separating them from the animals. SeaWorld, of course, is appealing that rule, given the fact that its bread and butter depends on the flashier, more intimate aspects of human-orca interaction, including the iconic rocket hop, in which a wet-suited trainer is launched skyward from the nose of a killer whale.
Some of the higher-profile incidents including the 2010 death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau are discussed in great detail by former SeaWorld trainers, accompanied by audio and/or video of the attacks. Many of them involve a single male orca, known as Tilikum, who has been involved in three deaths over many years. And yet Tilikum is still living at SeaWorld, and has fathered a large number of captivity-bred orcas. A dog that had bitten that many people would have been euthanized long ago, and not sent to a stud farm.
Is it Tilikums fault?
Blackfish strongly suggests that the animal is not wholly to blame. SeaWorld is portrayed as one obvious villain, but the film cant do much to stop it. Heck, even OSHA may ultimately not be able to.
The other guilty party, the film suggests, is the people who pay to see marine animal acts, and who keep the parks in business. Thats where Blackfish can be effective. Its hard to imagine anyone coming out of this movie and not swearing off their next vacation trip to Orlando, San Antonio or San Diego.
(At the Tivoli.)
| Michael OSullivan, The Washington Post