film review

Review | Blackfish – 2013

Blackfish isn’t the usual thing I would watch, since it’s a documentary. The documentary follows the controversial captivity of killer whales in the SeaWorld parks, and its dangers for both humans and whales. Blackfish mainly follows the life of the wale Tilikum, a male who was captured near Iceland then moved from zoo to zoo and got involved in multiple deaths. During the documentary a lot of former trainers of SeaWorld describe their experience with these animals as does one of the men who captured Tilikum. We definitely learn a lot about the consequences of keeping orcas in captivity. It’s all fun to see orcas do their thing on shows, but what happens next and what effect does it have on these animals?


The documentary starts more than 30 years back, when the two-year-old killer whale Tilikum was captured and therefore torn away from his family and the wildlife. This event is told by one of the fishermen who captured the whale and described it as something horrible, like if you kidnap a baby boy. This moment really brought tears to my eyes, it was heartbroken like how he described that moment. As a girl I loved the film “Free Willy” and I was so happy when he finally got out that sea park. Nevertheless I did went to Loro Parque on the Canarian Island Tenerife. This zoo also has a few killer whales who perform on shows. I really loved that show, but seeing this documentary it changes how you look at these shows. You only see the whales during their performances but you don’t know what happens afterwards and if the whales are treated well. Keeping these large animals in a zoo with the purpose to perform for a big audience is only for the benefit of people and the amount of money it gains. Nobody knows for 100% how the whales feel about it.

After Tilikum got captured he got moved a lot. From a small tank in Island to a bit bigger pool in Sealand of the Pacific – Canada, but only at times the park was open.  Tilikum and two very dominant female orcas were crammed into a tiny round module for more than 14 hours while the park was closed. The effect was that Tilikum was bitten regularly by the females and he had a lot of stress. We also learn about some weird training technique, which involved withholding food. The first deadly accident took place in Sealand and so the park closed and Tilikum was moved to Orlando’s SeaWorld for their breeding program. Over the course of 21 years at SeaWorld, Tilikum has been involved in multiple incidents of aggression, which has cost three lives.

But this documentary shows more than just Tilikum. We also learn about his offspring and how another baby – born in captivity – was torn away from its mother. We get to see some features footage of attacks on trainers by Tilikum and other captive whales, and interviews with witnesses.  Director of the film, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, also focuses on SeaWorld’s claims that the life expectancy of orcas held in captivity are comparable to those in the wild. It shouldn’t be a surprise that this is not true. Every animal has a lager lifespan in the wild, when he’s doing his own things without having stress.


I really liked this documentary because I also really like orcas. The best way to see them is of course in the wild, but I’m also one of those who really enjoyed a show with theses killer whales. However, we have to realize that these animals are very large and need a lot space. If a park like SeaWorld wants to keep them, they should make the pools as big as possible and not keep them in these small tanks when the park is closed. On the other hand I think this is really impossible since orcas need to swim for at least a 100 miles a day. A zoo can never give that opportunity and therefore I feel orcas should never be kept in captivity. Blackfish shows wat could go wrong when you train a killer whale, but for me the most important thing of this documentary is that we have to realize orcas are too big for any kind of zoo and should live in the bige blue ocean.

Keep in mind that every story has two sides. I’m sure that SeaWorld tries its best but they just don’t have the knowledge to do so. After watching Blackfish I find out that also comments of the trainers has been used in a way the director thought was best – in some sort of way. Therefore I think it’s wise to read more about killer whales to form a good opinion about the matter.


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