If you watch one documentary about Killer Whales, watch this one. It's extremely thought provoking.
Blackfish is a documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite that came out in 2013. It follows the life of Tilikum, a Killer Whale held in captivity by SeaWorld in Florida. This might just change the way you see Orcas and marine parks in particular.
BLACKFISH Trailer (Orca's Documentary Film 2013)
Tilikum is a Killer Whale who has been linked to the deaths of three people. He was captured in 1983 near Iceland. The documentary explores whether his relationship with the other orcas in captivity ultimately helped develop his aggression towards his trainers and other killer whales in captivity, or whether it ws other factors- some killer whales are sensitive to noise, for example. The film also explores whether placing a killer whale into captivity shorten his or her lifespan.
The film shows footage of attacks on Tilikum's trainers by the Orca. One of his trainers, Dawn Brancheau- a veteran and consummate professional, tragically died at the park. The SeaWorld killer whale grabbed Dawn from the poolside and thrashed the woman around under the water, killing her in front of a horrified audience who were ushered out of the seating area immediately.
Dawn Brancheau, 40, was petting Tilikum after a performance show when the tragedy happened.
Whatever you think of it, this film will provoke a response and will test your thoughts on the captivity and training of performance killer whales.
SeaWorld San Diego, unsurprisingly, was angered and saddened by the film and they accuse the director of using Brancheau's death to sensationalize a sad story. In their view this was not a balanced piece of journalism, but a one-sided movie intended to draw the largest audience through big headline shock tactics.
The family of the late Dawn Brancheau also came out publically and said that they did not believe it accurately reflected Brancheau or her work with these marine animals.
SeaWorld Entertainment said in a statement: "Blackfish ... is inaccurate and misleading and, regrettably, exploits a tragedy .... They later filed a complaint with the U.S. Department of Labor, claiming Cowperthwaite, an employee who helped to investigate Brancheau's death had behaved improperly by helping the filmmakers.
Visitor numbers at the park went down by 5% in the first 3 quarters of 2013. It is not known how much the Blackfish documentary contributed to this.
Following the film, New York State Senator Greg Ball forwarded legislation in New York to ban keeping killer whales in captivity. In California an Act was introduced called the Orca Welfare and Safety Act, that would ban performance killer whale captivity and retire all current whales. A real life Free Willy act.
In 2014, SeaWorld share prices dropped by 33%. In 2013 they hit highs of $38.88. In August 2015 the stock sat at $17.40
Whether you side with the documentary or SeaWorld, one thing is for sure- it's had a massive impact on their business and viability going forward.