Blackfish: the story of SeaWorld’s murderous killer whale

In 2010, after a Dine with Shamu show featuring SeaWorld’s star–a killer whale named Tilikum and the largest orca in captivity–the whale declined to dive down underwater for a photo op for tourists. Instead, he dragged its trainer, Dawn Brancheau, into the water and killed her, just as he’d killed two other people. Now, a new documentary seeks to expose treatment of killer whales by amusement parks as inhumane.

Blackfish was directed and produced by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, and its web site says it “compiles shocking footage and emotional interviews to explore the creature’s extraordinary nature, the species’ cruel treatment in captivity, the lives and losses of the trainers and the pressures brought to bear by the mulit-billion dollar sea-park industry.”

That industry–specifically SeaWorld–has responded, remarkably, via a letter to film critics that disputes some of the claims in the film. That’s part of “an aggressive public pushback against the film, which makes the case, sometimes with disturbing film, that orca whales in captivity suffer physical and mental distress because of confinement,” according to the New York Times. The producers have subsequently responded to SeaWorld’s assertions.

The film debuted at Sundance and opened in New York and LA last weekend, and opens in the UK this weekend and wider in the US, and will add more theatres in the United States August (see a list of all theaters; scroll down for US and Canada). Update:: CNN, which helped produce the film, will air it Oct. 24 at 9 p.m. ET.

It has some things in common with The Cove, both subject matter and presentation. That’s the Oscar-winning film that starred Flipper’s former trainer and powerfully argued against keeping dolphins in captivity. (If you haven’t seen it, do yourself a favor and watch it: it’s edited and produced like a thriller.) There’s also a book about SeaWorld’s actually killer whale: Death at SeaWorld: Shamu and the Dark Side of Killer Whales in Captivity.

Blackfish, which has received critical acclaim, features interviews with former SeaWorld trainers, two of whom did a Reddit AMA recently, in which they both said they are now against keeping animals in captivity for entertainment.

Will the film have any impact on those who use animals for entertainment, or on the public who pays to see them?

Review: Married at First Sight

Marriage At First Sight

In an era of Tinder and Grindr, instant acceptance or dismissal of a potential partner, or instant sex with another body, Married at First Sight offers the thrill of watching strangers deal with the very basics of relationships.

Beyond the headline-grabbing premise, the series has turned out to be a stripped-down, authentic exploration of something very interesting. Read the full review.

about the writer

Andy Dehnart is a journalist who has covered reality television for more than 15 years and created reality blurred in 2000. A member of the Television Critics Association, his writing and criticism about television, culture, and media has appeared on NPR and in Playboy, Buzzfeed, and many other publications. Andy, 36, also directs the journalism program at Stetson University in Florida, where he teaches creative nonfiction and journalism. He has an M.F.A. in nonfiction writing and literature from Bennington College. More about reality blurred and Andy.