Blackfish (2013)

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Blackfish is a mind-altering documentary film directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite which tells the story of notorious orca (killer whale) Tilikum in captivity, who is responsible for the killing of three persons, including his trainer Dawn Brancheau.

Cowperthwaite started his work on the documentary after the death of Brancheau to investigate the claim by the SeaWorld who misinterpreted the cause of his death. SeaWorld claimed that Brancheau was dragged into the pool by her ponytail that might have caught in Tilikum’s teeth. And they further explained that trainer’s hair may have confused with a toy or fish, because she was holding a fish before. Cowperthwaite argued that this claim by the SeaWorld had been conjecture and there is something more in the story. The SeaWorld also claimed that the orcas in captivity live longer. But, Cowperthwaite proved this claim is wrong in the film. The film also examines the consequences of keeping such gigantic and intelligent animal in captivity.

This horrific documentary film with never-before-seen footage includes interviews with orca trainers and experts show us the killer whale’s exceptional behavior, brutal treatment of them in captivity over the last four decades, and the frustration of workers who were deceived and threatened by the business-minded sea park industry. This emotional story challenges us to evaluate our relationship with nature and natural resources and reveals how we humans learned lessons from these highly intelligent fellow mammals.

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Filed Under: 2013Animals and WildlifeEnvironment

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  • oQ

    That’s a hard one to watch….very well done documentary.
    I suggest it to anyone who is about to go or wishes to go visit SeaWorld.

    • DigiWongaDude


      • oQ

        We should get @Dewfall to join us on this site. She would fit right in with her humour and smarts plus as she wrote, she is a friend with a big heart.

        • DigiWongaDude

          I did give her a heads up to check this place out ;-)
          I’m still a bit shaken by this documentary.
          Some truly exceptional films here.

  • Pysmythe

    What I did not learn: People will outright lie and put others lives at risk with no compunction whatsoever in order to keep the money train rolling.

    What I did learn: There is no way in hell these magnificent creatures (I’m very tempted to say ‘beings’) should ever be viewed for entertainment anywhere but in the wild. They are emotionally complex, even more social than we are, in some respects, obviously hugely intelligent, and need their IMMEDIATE FAMALIES for a lifetime in order to live happy and fulfilling lives. You can’t duplicate their needs in captivity, no matter how hard you try, and you ought not even be allowed to. This may hold true for most animals held in captivity, but it most certainly holds true for these, in my opinion.

    Free Willy, dammit!

    The part about their brain structure was especially fascinating.

    • oQ

      I surely agree with you on all points….brain included.
      Even today I couldn’t get this movie out of my head.

      • Pysmythe

        Aren’t they beautiful? Even fearsome in their beauty! I loved it when that one trainer said that “when you look into their eyes, you KNOW there is someone looking back”. When my wife and I went to South Carolina three years ago, I took her and the kids to one of the beaches I used to hang out at when I was living there. Isle of Palms, near Charleston. She and I were about twenty yards out in the water when a dorsal fin about a foot high surfaced right next to her, within arms reach. I knew almost immediately that it was a dolphin (they’re very numerous and visible in that area) and that there wasn’t anything to worry about. He proceeded to swim right up to people like that, breaking the water with his dorsal, on up the beach for a couple of hundred yards or so. Kids were laughing, everyone out of the water was pointing, it was great. He gave everybody there a wonderful time that day on his own terms… My uncle, who owns a house down there, says he sees them all the time when he goes out in his boat, so I’m thinking that must have been one that’s quite used to people. All orcas should be given the same privilege to ‘entertain’ (or hunt fish!) in some similar manner of their own freewill (small pun), should the chance arise. It is clearly immoral to keep such highly-evolved creatures out of their natural element.

        • oQ

          What a nice story, i’ll admit seeing a dorsal fin right next to me in the water of the Atlantic would have scared the shite out of me for an instant or two (thanks to Jaws).
          I’ll also admit I did go to SeaWorld when I lived in San Diego. I had kids and it was one of the most talked about thing to do with kids. Mind you, I went to the San Diego Zoo and the Wild Animal Park a lot more often as I lived about 20-30 minutes from both, we became members too and every time we had visitors from Quebec we took them to both.
          I’m sure if I had seen this doc, in those days, I would have passed Sea World which is what a lot of people are doing now. I was looking around different sites on the subject yesterday, this documentary released this year is making a lot of people aware of the other side of entertainment, and that’s just a beginning. It may contribute to whales going back home (hopefully) although my guess would be that out of the amount of whales involved a few may end up terminated because of cost of transportation.

          • Pysmythe

            Great pic, but I can’t tell for sure if that’s snow and ice, or sand and water. :) I’m guessing the former.
            I suppose I bought into the Sea World line that the whales are happy (or at least happy enough), too, if I ever happened to think about it. Nearly everyone knows by now that killer whales are very intelligent, but I was not personally aware of how broad and deep their emotional lives are. Went and read the wikipedia article and found out that certain Native Americans hold the belief that they look after the souls of drowned people, and even become people themselves when they submerge, with civilizations at the bottom of the sea. Elsewhere in the article, it mentions that many researchers feel they actually have a type of culture that they pass on to their young, that different pods speak to each other with different dialects, etc., so that there appears to be an unexpected and startling degree of truth in the Native American myth, after all.

            edit- By the way, the fin did give me an adrenaline surge for a split second… and my wife actually YELPED and moved in front of our daughter.

          • oQ

            Snow and Ice, the Baie des Chaleurs in Gaspésie near where my parents live.

          • Pysmythe

            Cool! I may look that up on Google Earth later on.

        • dewfall

          We’ve spent thousands of years domesticating dogs, we still have to ‘break’ horses and we like to believe that we hold some sway over cats. We still get bitten, scratched and kicked. I once saw a mare kick down a stable wall and throw herself through a bramble hedge to get to her foal. They all have a feral streak, no matter how much we love them, no matter how they depend on us. Why anyone would think that something as emotionally intelligent as an Orca could survive imprisonment and remain mentally balanced is beyond me. They banned chimps tea parties in zoos here because of the cruelty, thankfully there are no longer dolphins in captivity here either. I now wonder why we have zoos at all. I understand that they have breeding programmes, but why? When do they ever ship elephants back to their lands of origin, or monkeys, tigers, pandas, bats, etc. A captive creature is half the animal his wild cousin is. Might as well visit taxidermists, they’re wrong too, but at least they’re honestly wrong :)

          • Pysmythe

            Good post, as always, and it’s great to see you back. Are you holding up pretty well?

          • dewfall

            Morning Pysmythe :) I’m well enough and my spirit is returning. I have spent my share of grief, the rest belongs to others. I made a promise to a friend that should I cry for her, I would only cry with laughter. What a request, now i own a wary smile and a large handkerchief. I am both honoured and proud to wear both ;) My last words for the sad at heart: give love, there is no gift more greatly received nor so dearly treasured :)

  • Steven Taylor

    I find it so hard to believe that as a society who pride ourselves on intellect we can allow ourselves to be fooled into believing that a business like SeaWorld takes the interest of these marine mammals into account. The reality is they are in it strictly for the money. Their appeal of OSHA’s ruling proves they could care less about anything else but profit. I will never step foot in a water park that houses marine mammals. I can only hope that their appeal is denied for the safety of the trainers and that one day all these parks will be closed and the mammals returned to where they belong…the oceans.

  • Mike Fry

    watched Blackfish the Movie again last night. I first saw it at the
    Uptown Theatre. Yesterday, I watched streamed it (free) from
    on my iPad and played it on our Apple TV. Since I had seen it before, I
    decided to watch it through a slightly different filter.

    first time I saw it I just let the film take me into it. And, it did a
    very good job of that. This time, I decided to pay attention to the way
    the film makers constructed the story… I really like the way they did
    it. Sound track = 5 stars. Editing was brilliant. The interviews were

    The movie caught me up as much the second time
    watching it. One thing was different, however… what really caught me
    was the overt lying Sea World did about the death of Dawn Brancheau.

    First they said that she had slipped and fallen into the pool. Then,
    they said Brancheau should not have been wearing a pony tail (even
    though she and many other trainers had always had pony tails around the
    whales). And, as we all know, that wasn’t true either.

    didn’t grab her pony tail. He grabbed her left arm. And, Brancheau had
    done nothing wrong. She had just finished her “Dinner with Dawn” show
    and had moved to the “relationship area” of the “theater” (you know, the
    place where the trainers are SUPPOSED to interact with the whales?)
    Tilikum met her there, but went off script by grabbing her arm and
    dragging her into the pool.

    To be clear: there are cameras all
    over the theater. The entire incident was caught on tape. There can be
    no doubt that Sea World knew exactly what happened and they simply lied
    about it. They blamed Brancheau for a death for which they were

    Hats off to the film makers for their tasteful
    editing of this and other tragedies documented. We all know what
    happened to Dawn, without needing to watch it happen.

  • Pat

    Education can be such a wonderful thing if you have an open mind and are willing to listen. I have to say that until I saw Blackfish, I never really thought about it. I love dolphins, am fascinated with sharks, but whales have been out of sight for me so I never gave them much thought… until now. It wasn’t bad enough when they caught the babies and ripped them from there families but as a mother, when they rip the young ones from its mother in captivity too! That was too much. Any woman would relate to postpartum depression there. The torture from humans as well as other whales for not preforming? Can you not see something is not right there? I have believed the public statements said and taken them at face value… till now. I believed they were taking care of the marine mammals intrusted in them…til now. I thought it was a good idea, educational and get up and personal… until now. For just about 50 years, they have had plenty of time to discover what makes them tick and all that research shows us that they are here to be free… free to live with their families… free to swim from one ocean to the next…free to eat…
    As a society, we should be smart enough not to allow this any longer. As a person, I pray to God that he forgives us for what we do to our animals.

  • pwndecaf

    Absolutely heart-wrenching…

    I watched a YouTube interview with the creator of this doc on a show called BYOD, for Bring Your Own Doc. Even with that preview, I was not prepared to have the feelings I have now or as I watched the doc. I want to weep for those whales, and think I will.

  • Johan Alucema


    • oQ

      what part?

  • K Solomon

    Man can be greedy and cruel. How sick are we? Forests stripped to grow palm oil and sugar cane. Rivers dammed and polluted. Oceans polluted and over-fished. Large mammals slaughtered for trophies and ‘medicine’. Tampering and changing the DNA of living things. Humans are despicable. More money for oil, more money for war and more money for GMO’s.

  • Lance Underwood

    I hang out with wild whales for a living, and I can surely say that captivity is an obscene thing for an orca;

  • disqus_80KBZjmab5

    I have read in ethics of business that morality is in fact based on profit, ergo if it means more money it’s the right thing to do. This in itself is disturbing and where the real problem lies.

  • Deborah Collins

    When I was young I always wanted to work at Seaworld. Of course I figured how would a kid from New Hampshire ever get a job there when there was probably thousands of kids just like me. I have never been to seaworld. I have been in the waters of Florida and had dolphins swim near. I have also never forgot watching the movie Orca during my honeymoon and was so sad at the part where the female orca was caught and as she was hung up on the boat her baby was born. The father seeing this from the water was heartbreaking.

  • Cindy S.

    A word came into my mind after watching this film. It’s a old word and hardly ever heard concerning our modern era. From now on I will use it to describe myself: ABOLISHIONIST.

  • Teri Smith

    This film is hype manufactured from 40 yr old information and
    footage and full of misleading information, the trainers are former employees from 20-35 yrs ago, some of whom were not even killer whale trainers, none had 1st hand knowledge of what happened. None of SeaWorld’s side of what they did do was included. SeaWorld
    Orlando didn’t open until 1973. This is an attempt to pull on the
    viewer to the side of animal activists like PETA.

    Do not rely on the
    film, it is full of misleading semi truths. My late husband worked
    there in 2004-06 as a Pyro Technician the team that does the fireworks.
    He applied in 05 for a position as animal handler, the people who feed
    the marine animals and take them to the vet if need be, this is a lower
    position than whale trainer, even that position required a degree in marine biology. The standard of care for the animals and level of protective training has greatly changed and continues to evolve for the health and safety of animals and staff.

    Before passing judgement based on this obviously biased film, do the research yourself, the information regarding case and the people who joined PETA to sue SeaWorld is public record.

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