Not many movies move this jaded reviewer to tears, but Blackfish (2013) does exactly that. This top-notch documentary details the troubled life of Tilikum, a literal killer whale responsible for the deaths of three people – two orca trainers, Keltie Byrne at Sealand of the Pacific in 1991 and Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld in 2010, plus mysterious SeaWorld trespasser Daniel P. Dukes in 1999. Like other orcas before him, Tilikum was abducted as a child and delivered into captivity for the entertainment of tourists. As Blackfish reveals, hunters prefer to capture the young whales because they are cheaper to transport, with the result that orca families are systematically bereaved by the amusement park industry.
The whales are then thrust into unfamiliar surroundings, frequently into the company of unfriendly fellow orcas, and kept in cramped quarters equivalent to confining a human being to a bathtub for the whole of his life. Whales living in captivity, consequently, tend to have lifespans half of that of their brethren in the wild and can manifest what in a human would be considered psychosis or psychological trauma. Tilikum’s life seems to have been an unusually unhappy one. In addition to the indignity of doing demeaning tricks for fish in an unsavory circus atmosphere, he was regularly abused by the female orcas with whom he performed as a lucrative stud – Tilikum’s dorsal collapse, or lugubrious drooping of his fin, serving as an appropriate symbol of his sexual humiliation and sadness.
5 stars. Ideological Content Analysis indicates that Blackfish is:
4. Statist. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) appears as a force of good in the film, condemning SeaWorld for covering up such unscrupulous practices as misleading its employees about Tilikum’s violent past.
3. Anti-capitalistic. Blackfish stands as a shocking document of the reprehensible things some people will do to “make a buck”.
2. Animal rights militant. No person with a heart, having once seen Blackfish, will want the practice of killer whale capture and exploitation to continue.
1. Diversity-skeptical. Three of the interviewees, speaking only with overt reference to whales, make statements on the tribal nature of the creatures suggestive of broader relevance for the humans in the audience. Multiculturalism, it turns out, is just as dysfunctional among killer whales! Orca researcher Howard Garrett explains killer whale groupings in captivity:
And they say that they’re a family, that the whales are in their family, they have their pods; but that’s just a, you know, an artificial assemblage of their collection, however management decides they should mix them, and whichever ones happen to be born or bought and brought in, or – that’s not a family, you know, come on.
Orca trainer turned animal rights activist Jeffrey Ventre adds:
You’ve got animals from different cultural subsets that have been brought in from various parks. These are different nations. These aren’t just two different killer whales. These animals, they’ve got different genes, they use different languages.
Most sobering of all, Emory University biopsychologist Lori Marino offers uncomfortable truths diversity cultists ought to heed and consider in their parallel human ramifications:
Well, what can happen as a result of their being thrown in with other whales that they haven’t grown up with, that are not part of their culture is, there’s hyper-aggression, a lot of violence, a lot of killing in captivity that you don’t ever see in the wild.