Blackfish is a 2013 American documentary film directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. It focuses on Tilikum, an orca held by SeaWorld and the controversy over captive killer whales. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2013, and was picked up by Magnolia Pictures and CNN Films for wider release.
The film has attained lots of controversy. However, it attained positive reviews from critics, and for a while, SeaWorld's image was ruined, though it has recovered somewhat in recent years.
The documentary focuses on the captivity of Tilikum, an orca involved in the deaths of three individuals, and the consequences of keeping orcas in captivity. The coverage of Tilikum includes his capture in 1983 off the coast of Iceland, and purported harassment by fellow captive orcas at Sealand of the Pacific, incidents that Cowperthwaite argues contributed to the orca's aggression and includes testimonial from Lori Marino, Director of Science with the Nonhuman Rights Project. Cowperthwaite also focuses on SeaWorld's claims that lifespans of orcas in captivity are comparable to those in the wild, typically 30 years for males and 50 years for females, a claim the film argues is false. Interview subjects also include former SeaWorld trainers, such as John Hargrove, who describe their experiences with Tilikum and other captive whales.
The documentary reports that the whales have experienced extreme stress when their offspring were captured in the wild or when separated after breeding at water parks. The film features footage of attacks on trainers by Tilikum and other captive whales, and interviews with witnesses. A "segment" of the video of trainer Dawn Brancheau's death is shown at the beginning of the film and near the end, but cuts off just before Tilikum attacks and drags her underwater.
Why It's Blacklisted
- The film is filled to the brim with many blatant half-truths.
- The video of Dawn Brancheau's death is not the video of said death.
- The film implies that there are no recorded orca attacks in the wild, when in reality, there are actually wild orca attacks, with one requiring over 100 stitches!
- Samantha Berg, one of the interviewees, is seen "riding one of the whales" at one point. In fact, the trainer is not Berg, but another trainer by the name of Holly Byrd, and is footage recorded at SeaWorld more than 10 years after Berg left SeaWorld. SeaWorld has no record of Berg doing water work with killer whales; even if she did, it was very limited.
- The film spins an exaggerated account of Dawn Brancheau’s death in order to advance its anti-captivity narrative, according to SeaWorld Cares' "Truth About Blackfish" page.
- The implication that SeaWorld captures whales is false. SeaWorld has not captured whales in nearly 35 years when the film was released. The last such collection by SeaWorld took place in 1979.
- One of the "trainers" that interviewed in the film wasn't even a trainer in the first place, and said "trainer" never even worked for SeaWorld at all.
Despite the positive reviews, it attained lots of controversy. On Rotten Tomatoes, a review aggregator, the film has a score of 98% based on 132 reviews with an average rating of 8/10. The site's critical consensus states, "Blackfish is an aggressive, impassioned documentary that will change the way you look at performance killer whales.". On Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score to reviews from mainstream critics, the film received an average score of 83 out of 100 based on 33 critics indicating "universal acclaim."