Blackfish – a review

blackfish1Many of you may be familiar with the movie ‘Blackfish’, an eye-opening documentary film released in 2013 that depicts the shocking events that have occurred at SeaWorld, which have resulted in the deaths of multiple people including several of the animal trainers. The film synopsis really stood out to me when I stumbled across it on a website last year, and so I was anticipating something hard-hitting and honest when I arrived at the cinema in London where it was being shown. My anticipation did not prepare me for what I was about to see.

The movie, which begins by showing the procedure used to kidnap whales from the wild to bring them into captivity, focuses on the whale that is infamous for his aggressive and sometimes fatal run-ins with people – Tilikum, a six-ton, 22-foot orca who was caught in 1983 off the coast of Iceland. The first few scenes document the arrival of Tilikum into his first captive environment – a scene showing him being taken from his mother is included, and this scene is not pleasant at all. Through a gritty camera lens, we see the baby Tilikum being hoisted out of the water in a harness, while his mother floats beside it, her cries plain for all to hear. A man who was involved in the capture of Tilikum, or ‘Tili’, speaks about the ordeal, saying that he was just following orders, and the regret in his voice is clear as he explains how they snatched the whale calf away from his mother and his home to bring him into his new life of floating lifelessly in a tank that is much too small for an animal of his size, that is until he is needed to perform for miniscule buckets of fish and monetary gain for his captors.

The movie then moves on to show Tili in his various homes before SeaWorld – after being kept in a tiny concrete holding tank for a year, the orca was moved to Sealand of the Pacific, a small aquarium in Canada. There, Tilikum suffered severe physical abuse from the bigger female whales he was housed with, and this stress is thought to have contributed to the violent actions we see him commit later on in the film when he is transferred to SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida. 

Tilikum in the performance pool at SeaWorld, Orlando

Tilikum in the performance pool at SeaWorld, Orlando

‘Blackfish’ is essentially a look into the life of captive killer whales, and serves as an expose into the treatment of these animals and whether a life in captivity leads to emotional trauma and eventually violent outbursts from these animals, who have been known to very very rarely attack any humans in the wild, and these attacks were deemed to most likely be accidental and a mistake made by the whale in thinking a human was another animal like a seal. The film is a mixture of interviews with previous SeaWorld employees and people involved in the attacks, blended with footage from the whale shows and even some original tapes which contain harrowing footage of some of the attacks.

However, this film isn’t an attempt at picket-fencing orca whales – on the contrary, it delves into the idea of whales suffering from psychosis due to being kept in cramped conditions with little to no stimulation, and looks into how SeaWorld’s treatment of these animals is not up to par. Evidence from lawsuits involving animal rights agencies is also included, and this makes for a fascinating look-in to how the attacks were handled and, in some cases, justified, albeit poorly and wrongly.

I personally think this film is crucial in terms of educating people on the dangers and immorality of keeping animals like killer whales in captivity for our own entertainment, and I urge any animal lovers out there to give this movie a watch – not only is the story important, but the whales themselves are beautiful, majestic creatures, and some of the footage of these wonderful animals is just too good to miss.


5/5 – (This is a random titbit that may not even be prudent to this review, but the original ending to the upcoming animated film ‘Finding Dory’ involved the depiction of a marine park, but it was revised after Pixar’s employees saw the film and spoke with the director – I just thought this was a very cool thing for them to do as it’s not perpetuating this form of ‘entertainment’ as a thing that should happen and it’s therefore not going to be teaching kids that this kind of treatment of animals is acceptable.)