Killer Whales or Orcas are portrayed as cute and intelligent mammals that do backflips on cue to music and are man’s best friend of the sea.
However, after the gripping documentary Blackfish by Gabrielle Cowperthwaite, I do feel guilty calling a documentary during which three people die gripping but it’s true, many views across the globe have changed. The documentary, described as ‘chilling and haunting’, connected with audiences on an emotional level causing petition pages to spring up left, right and centre like an Orca at SeaWorld. One example is the ‘Save the Whales’ page. Why does this documentary cause such a sense of sadness and rage for Killer Whales in Captivity?
My theory is that throughout the documentary you begin to understand the whales. Experience their torment and abuse, especially Tilikum, the Orca that the documentary is based on. When audiences see the obvious cruelty the whales are subjected to we feel rage and injustice, not because it’s happening just for cruelty but because they’re being forced to entertain for us.
The documentary begins with showing whales being hunted by SeaWorld, ripped away from their families while the families stay and communicate to the young whale being, essentially, kidnapped. This is when the audience begins to humanise these mammals. You can see their grief and then begin to understand their family bond is similar to human. That is when the audience becomes gripped. What happens after is what causes the audience rage.
The large male, Tilikum, is the ‘star’ of the documentary. He is the epitome of the abuse that happens in captivity. Locked into a tiny box with other whales that ‘rake’ their teeth off his skin due to their frustration, having food witheld and forced to perform everyday to a crowd of oblivious spectators, I believe we feel angry throughout this documentary is because at some time or another, we or someone we know was that oblivious spectator. Happily laughing while a Killer Whale splashed us in our seats saying ‘Oh my God they’re so smart.’ However, everything turns sinister when Tilikum kills young Keltie Burns at Sealand of the Pacific after she slips in the pool. This is when the media cover up begins and you begin to see the corruption of SeaWorld. Sealand shuts down and the whales are put up for sale. SeaWorld buys Tilikum and this is when our ‘villian’ of the story enters.
SeaWorld attains Tilikum and do not tell their employees that he killed Keltie Byrne, blaming it on the other two Orcas at Sealand. This is when the audience begins to understand the corruption of SeaWorld as they lie to their trainers. Throughout the documentary trainers, John Hardgrove, Samantha Berg, Marc Simmms and more, begin to tell their story of the questionable ethics of SeaWorld. They highlight that Tilikum was alone for most of his life in SeaWorld, away from the other whales and also other tragedies that happened in the mega corperation. John Hardgrove stated his eyes began to open to the abuse at SeaWorld ‘when we started separating moms from their calves.’
‘Contrary to what SeaWorld’s carefully prepared statements that they put out saying they’ll never separate moms from calves unless it’s medical, that’s bullshit. Total bullshit. I can give you so many examples that that’s not true. And not just my opinion that it’s not true — it’s not true. I was there for those, and I know the exact reasons we moved those whales, and it was because we had a need in another park for that particular animal, whether it was a juvenile male or a juvenile female, or a female that knew all of the water work behaviors, or a dominant female, or whatever.’
You see the female whales grieving for their young. It is heartbreaking. However, the attitude of SeaWorld was to move on and perform. The documetary continues to lead up to when Tilikum kills Dawn Brancheau in 2010, causing such horrific injuries infront of a horrified crowd. However, none of the trainers blames the whale Tilikum, they said it was SeaWorld’s actions that led to his ‘psychosis’.
After the documentary was shown at the Sundance film festival it went viral. There was a lot of backlash towards killer whales in captivity. However, there was also a lot of backlash towards the documentary itself, being described as ‘dubious’ and being one sided. Which, to a certain extent it is. It is a fact that I can’t argue against, it does only concentrate on the negative. For me personally, I do believe that the bad outweighs the good when it comes to this documentary. I understand that people believe that these mammals should be kept in captivity for educational purposes but I can’t help but look at that whales, ripped from the families, forced to perform and harming trainers as anything but barbaric.
You may or may not agree with me, you can say that these are just animals and we should worry about humans more and I do agree but I don’t see why animals have to suffer at the hands of humans and we should be okay with it because it’s entertaining. Please tell me your thoughts and if you do agree with me, please sign this petition Release the Whales. I have no romantic ideas that everyone will sign this and suddenly the whales will be free but it is start.