SeaWorld bites back as Blackfish documentary makes it to the big screen

peta lawsuit orca killer whale seaworld slave
CC BY 2.0 Olivier Bruchez

With screenings beginning next week, the documentary Blackfish, which focuses on the serious mental issues captivity can cause killer whales and drive them to lash out at trainers, has already received positive reviews from the likes of the New York Times, Variety, Village Voice, The Hollywood Reporter and more. And, it has sparked the anger of SeaWorld.

SeaWorld, in an unusual move, has already begun striking back at the film. Usually large companies just lie low while documentaries play out, not wanting to draw added attention to negative press and waiting for everyone to forget about it. But instead the marine park is taking a proactive approach, calling the film inaccurate and misleading before it has even hit the screens.

The film focuses on Tilikum, the 12,000-pound, 22-foot orca whale that killed and dismembered its trainer in 2010, and delves into the psychological effects of captivity on intelligent wild animals. The filmmaker repeatedly asked SeaWorld for interviews during filming and was repeatedly told no. Now that the film is heading to audiences, though, SeaWorld seems keen to speak up, especially to voice its opinion that being able to see whales in such a setting provides a connection to the marine mammals that people would not otherwise have. But, as Blackfish asks, at what cost to the animals?

The uncharacteristic preemptive strike by a major company against an independent documentary could very well be a sign the SeaWorld is indeed worried about how this film will affect its profits. Could it be because there are facts in the film SeaWorld has worked hard to cover up? Quite possibly. Could it be because we have seen how powerful documentaries can be about raising public awareness on animal rights, with The Cove being an excellent example? Very possibly. And it is worth mentioning that The Cove also brought up issues with aquarium and sea park employees picking out dolphins from those herded up for slaughter, to be spared and transported to a life in captivity.

With science recognizing whales, dolphins and other cetaceans as sentient beings, with deeply intelligent minds and strong family bonds -- not to mention that they need a lot of space -- it's hard for many to think that a life in captivity could be mentally or physically healthy for marine mammals, especially large and active whales like orca. But to what extent such a life is problematic, Blackfish tries to make clear. It will likely leave viewers wondering how places like SeaWorld can continue to exist.

And that's just why SeaWorld is so worried.

You can read each of SeaWorld's counterpoints to the film, and the filmmaker's counterpoint to their counterpoints, on Blackfish's website.

And here is the trailer to the film:

SeaWorld bites back as Blackfish documentary makes it to the big screen
A documentary revealing the deeply troubling aspects of keeping killer whales captive is about to premiere, and already SeaWorld is starting an unusually agressive public campaign against the film.

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