Movie Review – Blackfish (2013)

On February 24, 2010, Tilikum, a killer whale in captivity at SeaWorld Orlando, attacked and killed his trainer, 40-year-old Dawn Brancheau.

Dawn was killed during the final show of the day.  What makes matters worse is that this is not the first or second time that this particular killer whale has killed anybody.  The death of Dawn Brancheau marked the third victim for Tilikum.

Blackfish (2013) - movie poster

The 2013 documentary Blackfish takes a look at Tilikum’s history, from the whale’s capture off the coast of iceland to his initial (mis)treatment at Sealand of the Pacific park in British Columbia, Canada, to the whale’s killer record at SeaWorld Orlando.  Along the way we also learn more about the treatment of certain killer whales in captivity, how it affects their behavior, and what little the whale trainers allegedly did not know about Tilikum’s past.

Blackfish (2013) - Some people just want to swim with the fishes.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

Blackfish begins with the interviews of a few former SeaWorld killer whale trainers and how they achieved their dreams of working with the magnificent water animals.  To be able to work with such creatures is still a dream for thousands of people.  It’s the same desire as wanting to work in a zoological park and get up close and personal with the animals, an opportunity some people can only dream about.

As these whale trainers explain, there’s just something special about not only touching but being able to swim in the water with such massive, agile and intelligent creatures.  It sounds like it’s truly an amazing experience for the right person, something that’ll be remembered and cherished for the rest of his or her life.

Blackfish (2013) - OSHA versus SeaWorld of Florida, LLC

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

The film then shows a little more information about the 2010 death of Dawn and Occupational Safety & Health Administration’s (OSHA) lawsuit against SeaWorld Orlando.  The OSHA claim is that swimming with killer whales is dangerous as the creatures themselves will always be unpredictable.  To understand the killer whales, we need to learn how they’re captured from the wild.

Blackfish (2013) - Pulling killer whales from the sea looks rather barberic and cruel.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

Blackfish then jumps back to 1970 in Puget Sound, Washington.  An experienced whale capturer shares his experience of what it was like capturing whales for organizations back in those days.  After the pod of whales is scared and chased into a cove, nets are used to separate the calves from the rest of the pod.  As the pod of whales watches from a short distance and unable to help the calves, the young whales are lifted out of the water and placed onto special boats.  The few whales that are killed in the process are weighed down and sunk to the bottom of the cove to hide the evidence.

According to a 1976 court order, SeaWorld was forbidden from catching whales off the coast of Washington.  The company simply changed operations and began catching killer whales off the coast of Iceland instead.

In 1983, a young, 2-year-old killer whale measuring 11.5 feet was caught off the coast of Iceland.  He was named Tilikum.

Blackfish (2013) - Killer whale area at Sealand of the Pacific aquarium.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

Next we visit Sealand of the Pacific aquarium in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.  This was Tilikum’s first home after being captured in the wild.  And as we see, this park had less-than-ideal living conditions for the killer whales.

It’s mentioned that at first Tilikum was a model killer whale.  The fans loved him and the whale seemed eager to please and perform tricks.  It’s also implied that the first trainer used food punishment methods of training the whales.  This kept some of the whales always hungry and led to frustration and anger between the whales.  This behavior was so bad that at certain times of the year, Tilikum would be covered with “rakes” and bite marks from the more dominant killer whales.

The performance area was a netted area in a marina, and at night the whales were stored in small shelters that barely provided any swimming room.  These storage pods were safety precautions to prevent people from cutting the net at night and freeing the whales.  As the whales grew in size, their movements became more and more restrictive in the containers.  During the winter months, the whales would spend the majority of the day inside of the containers.

Could spending long periods of time contained in a small container, in the dark, with dominant whales that occasionally struck back cause any long-term psychological damage?  Certainly.

Blackfish (2013) - It was so horrific and traumatic that I have to keep SMILING during the interview.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

On February 20, 1991, Keltie Byrne, a 20-year-old marine biology student, a competitive swimmer, and a part-time whale trainer was killed in the killer whale tank at Sealand of the Pacific.  Two friends who went to Sealand that day and witnessed the attack are interviewed.  They tell a terrifying tale of a seemingly normal day at the aquarium that turns into horror when Keltie, the whale trainer, was walking along the tank and tripped, landing in the water.

As she was trying to climb out of the water, one of the whales, Tilikum, raced to her position, grabbed her foot, and dragged her back into the water.  The other whales joined in pulling the woman underwater, letting her come up for air and yell for help, and then dragging her underwater again.  They continued doing so and the young woman eventually drowned.

According to the two interviewees in Blackfish, it was Tilikum that initially attacked and pulled Keltie underwater.  Allegedly other witnesses claimed that it was one of the other killer whales in the aquarium.  Whether Tilikum actually killed the woman or not, the killer whale is still associated with being involved with her death.

Sealand of the Pacific was closed in November of 1991.  The killer whales were sold to SeaWorld and moved to the U.S. parks.  Allegedly SeaWorld purchased Tilikum because they needed him as a breeder.  It seemed like a winning situation for Tilikum as he would have a bigger home, better food and medicine, and a more comfortable environment.

Blackfish (2013) - Killer whales in the wild.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

Next in Blackfish we learn more about killer whales themselves and how our knowledge of them has only recently, within the past twenty or thirty years, become more accurate.  For example, it’s now thought that the killer whales in the wild can live to 50-60 years for males, and up to 80-90 years for females.  Of course, the average lifespans for the whales in the wild is only thought to be about 30-50 years.  Killer whales in captivity, on the other hand, only have lifespans around 20-30 years.

It’s then shown that the brains of killer whales are significantly more advanced than we originally believed.  These are really complex creatures with equally complicated personalities and behavior patterns.

After that we see how killer whales work as a team to catch seemingly inaccessible prey.  Video shows how two and then three killer whales create large waves to swamp an ice float to knock a seal into the water.  They finally succeed and quickly devour their prey.

Blackfish then goes back to Tilikum and his arrival at SeaWorld Orlando in 1992.

It’s reported that when Tilikum first arrived in Orlando, he was repeatedly attacked by the other killer whales in the tanks.  While in captivity the animals are kept in very close proximity with one another.  There’s no open swimming room for any of the whales to temporarily escape should any of the more dominant whales become aggressive.

It’s mentioned that Tilikum’s larger size made him an easy target for the smaller and more agile females.  As a result, SeaWorld segregated Tilikum and kept a physical barrier between him and the female whales, and he was allegedly just in contact with them for breeding purposes.  One of the trainers claimed that Tilikum was basically kept in the back and only brought out at the end of the shows for the really big splashes.

Blackfish (2013) - They say that Tilikum seemed eager to please the trainers.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

The former trainer also mentions that Tilikum always seemed happy to see the trainers each morning.  He just appeared to be a happy and playful whale.  Another former trainer claimed that Tilikum seemed to be interested and willing to work with the trainers.

The former trainers then go on saying about how they were allegedly never given the full details about the death of Keltie Byrne at Sealand of the Pacific.  One trainer claims that she was under the impression that Tilikum had nothing to do with Keltie’s death, and it was the female whales instead.  Yet that former trainer also claims that park management seemed to be extra cautious around Tilikum.

If management was acting concerned around Tilikum, shouldn’t the trainers have followed their lead?

It’s then discussed how during one of Tilikum’s performances, one of the photographers captured video of Tilikum allegedly trying to snatch a trainer’s foot.  The park’s management declared that the entire tape was unusable at that point, even if that minor “glitch” from the whale was removed.  The tape had to be destroyed.

Blackfish (2013) - Some courtroom drama in OSHA vs SeaWorld.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

Blackfish then shows more courtroom testimony between OSHA and SeaWorld.  It’s noted that the SeaWorld head trainer made a statement claiming that Tilikum never showed any behavior that would make the trainer believe that the whale would attack.  The documentary is strongly hinting that SeaWorld was lying in the courtroom as allegedly there are behavior sheets that mention Tilikum sometimes lunging toward an animal trainer.

The documentary then interviews another former trainer and she discusses the social impact of the killer whales, both between the human trainers and the whales’ offspring.  She states that it’s her belief that they need to keep the family units together, but apparently park management thought otherwise.

Blackfish (2013) - Is this really a 4-year-old killer whale, or is Blackfish intentionally misleading us?

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

A specific example is discussed where a 4-year-old killer whale was kept with her mother but rather disruptive at times during the shows.  The upper management decided the separate the young whale from her mother and move her to a different park entirely.  After the young whale was removed, it’s mentioned that the whale’s mother stayed off to the side, shaking and screeching for some time.  It was grief.  That same whale was later heard making long-range sonar calls trying to find its baby.

The former SeaWorld trainers then talk about how they were basically trained to lie to the public when making statements and answering questions.  Allegedly it was known back then that the information being told about the welfare of the animals was false, and that realistically, the killer whales had longer lifespans out in the wild.  Other potentially embarrassing facts were allegedly twisted in favor of SeaWorld’s animal care and practices.

Blackfish (2013) - An example of killer whales attacking each other.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

It’s then discussed how none of the pods of killer whales in the parks are actually killer whale families.  The whales themselves are mixed and matched from other parts of the world, and as a result, conflicts are bound to happen.  The documentary then shows footage of various killer whales suffering from cuts and gashes delivered by other whales.  One killer whale in particular is pretty bloody.  The former trainers go on telling about how some killer whales have died in captivity because of those acts of aggression and an inability to escape.  In those holding tanks it’s either fight back or take the punishment.

Blackfish (2013) - The trainer is going to be crushed, but he survives.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

The killer whale attack on November 23, 1987 at SeaWorld San Diego is discussed next.  It was a case where a trainer was crushed between two killer whales and was seriously injured.  One of the former trainers claim that she was employed by SeaWorld back then and never heard about the incident.  Allegedly the park claimed that the incident was the result of the trainer’s error, and not that of the killer whales.  It was reportedly a timing issue and not an aggressive act by the whales.

A video clip shows the trainer riding backwards on one killer whale as another leaps up and lands on top of the two of them.  Was it really a timing error or was the killer whale sending a message?

Another aggressive act by a killer whale is discussed in Blackfish.

This time we see a female trainer touching and interacting with a killer whale while making some mistakes, the biggest one being not having a safety spotter.  The woman uses her foot to play with one of the whales, and sure enough, the killer whale grabs her foot and drags her into the water.  It takes a few moments before other trainers actually see what’s happening in the water.  One of the trainers opens a gate and allows a more dominant killer whale into the same tank.  The other whale let go of the trainer and she was able to escape with her life, but one of her arms was broken with a compound fracture.

Blackfish continues discussing the fact that there are many documented cases of killer whales being a little bit too playful or aggressive with trainers and other visitors.  While that itself really isn’t a surprise, the important part here is that one of the former SeaWorld trainers claims to have had no knowledge about those incidents while she was working with the whales.  Again, this is implying that the company was intentionally withholding important and potentially lifesaving information from the employees.

For the trainers who had a startling encounter with the killer whales, the attitude presented was that there was somebody else ready to replace them.  If they didn’t want to get back into the water, then somebody else would.

Blackfish (2013) - This trainer was dragged deep several times but also survived.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

Up next is the November 29, 2006 killer whale attack that took place at SeaWorld San Diego.  The animal trainer was grabbed by the foot and dragged to the bottom of the tank multiple times.  After about nine minutes of this behavior the whale released him.  What most likely saved the trainer’s life was his ability to remain calm and quickly prepare for the deep dives.  As a result he’s a survivor from the animal’s suddenly dangerous behavior.

Next in Blackfish is the mysterious death of Daniel P. Dukes on July 6, 1999 at SeaWorld Orlando.

Dukes was found dead, stripped naked, and on the back of Tilikum when SeaWorld Orlando workers arrived at the park in the morning.  While the autopsy lists Dukes’s death as hypothermia, there are many bite marks and attack signs over his body.  It’s just a question though if Tilikum caused the man’s death or if it really was hypothermia and drowning.

The documentary points out that despite the roaming patrols and literally dozens of cameras covering many angles of the animal tanks, somehow nobody from the security team saw him or the attack.  The thought is that Dukes was hiding in the park after hours, stripped off his clothes, hopped over a small fence, and then jumped into Tilkum’s tank.

So why is Tilikum with SeaWorld if he’s this beast who has allegedly killed two people?

Because he’s there for breeding.

Blackfish shows a rather graphic example of SeaWorld trainers stimulating Tilikum and extracting sperm to be later inseminated into the female whales.  Yes, they really show the whale’s male anatomy in the video.

One of the former SeaWorld trainers then goes on to discuss how “reputable” breeding programs don’t breed from aggressive species.  Of course, the argument here in Blackfish is that Tilikum is an aggressive and literally killer whale, and he should have never been used in SeaWorld’s breeding program.

Next in Blackfish is a trip to Loro Parque in the Canary Islands in Spain.

It’s claimed that when Loro Parque received four killer whales on loan from SeaWorld in February of 2006, the park itself was not ready for the whales.  The tank wasn’t ready and most of the trainers had little to no time with the animals themselves.  As a result, the first few years were a little bit rough on the whales.

Blackfish (2013) - It's said that Alexis loved his job with the whales.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

On December 24, 2009, 29-year-old Alexis Martinez died during a rehearsal show at Loro Parque with 14-year-old killer whale Keto.  Keto was born at SeaWorld Orlando and on loan to the Spanish aquarium park.  The killer whale reportedly rammed into Martinez’s chest and rendered him unconscious.  According to the autopsy reports, Martinez suffered from multiple injuries and bite marks all over his body.  Did Keto snap and decide to kill him, or was this just a rough and playful behavior from the powerful animal?

Was SeaWorld responsible for that killer whale’s suddenly erratic behavior, or does the blame fall on the shoulders of Loro Parque?  By that point in time the whales had been in Loro Parque for over three-and-a-half years, but allegedly Loro Parque’s trainers were still behind on training and other procedures.

Next in Blackfish is the February 24, 2010 attack and killing of Dawn Brancheau by Tilikum at SeaWorld Orlando.

Former SeaWorld trainers tell us that apparently that was a bad day for the killer whales.  Throughout the day the whales were allegedly having problems while performing and the trainers had a hard time keeping the whales under control.  It’s then mentioned that since the main show didn’t go well, Dawn *may have been* under more pressure to perform her act with Tilikum during SeaWorld Orlando’s “Dine With Shamu” show.

It’s believed that the turning point in the show occurred when Tilikum was performing a trick and he didn’t hear Dawn blow the whistle, indicating that he did a good job and was about to receive a treat.  He continued performing a perfect trick, but when he returned to Dawn, she didn’t give him a treat.  Tilikum received a negative reaction even though he performed as instructed.

It’s also pointed out that Dawn was running out of food to feed Tilikum.  Apparently the whales are aware when the food buckets are almost empty.  They also know that allegedly the food buckets do not get refilled during the show.  It’s up to the whale to continue performing as instructed even though he wouldn’t be receiving as much food.  This is another negative impact on the whale’s behavior.

Blackfish (2013) - Dawn with Tilikum before she was attacked and killed.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

After the performance, Dawn Brancheau was seen off to the side of the pool and spending some quiet time with Tilikum.  She fed and rubbed the whale, and she was seen laying down in a shallow area to be even closer to the killer whale.  And that’s when Tilikum decided to grab Dawn’s arm and quickly drag her into the pool.  While Dawn died from being drowned by the killer whale, the autopsy reports indicated massive blunt force trauma including a severed spinal cord, having her hair scalped, and Dawn’s left arm was ripped off and eaten by the whale.

It’s implied that SeaWorld Orlando tried to cover up Dawn’s death by initially stating that she slipped and fell into the water and then drowned.  The company had to change its statement after eyewitness accounts claimed that she was grabbed and dragged underwater by the killer whale.

The documentary then states how SeaWorld claimed that the killer whale was actually irritated by Dawn’s ponytail, and that’s what he grabbed, implying that it’s Dawn’s fault for having a bad hairdo.  Of course, many female trainers have had similar hairdos while working with the whales, and none of them ever grabbed them by it.

This was then changed and the ponytail statement was blamed on the safety spotter.  Allegedly the spotter never saw the actual assault, and he *thought* he saw Tilikum dragging Dawn by the hair when she was underwater.

Blackfish (2013) - Remember that SeaWorld is evil.

Blackfish (2013) – (c) Magnolia Pictures

After that Blackfish makes a point of having certain people talk about how terrible it is to keep animals such as killer whales in captivity.  We then see footage of Tilikum in isolation and how he basically just floats around lifeless and depressed.  Following that is an obligatory shot of protesters demanding that SeaWorld frees Tilikum and the other whales.

Blackfish ends with footage of the former SeaWorld whale trainers going on a boat ride and seeing the killer whales swimming in the wild, all happy and healthy.

So is Blackfish a good film / documentary?

A documentary is defined as something “based on or re-creating an actual event, era, life story, etc., that purports to be factually accurate and contains no fictional elements: a documentary life of Gandhi.

This is NOT the case for Blackfish.  This film better qualifies as a piece of PROPAGANDA (defined as “information, ideas, or rumors deliberately spread widely to help or harm a person, group, movement, institution, nation, etc.“) aimed at SeaWorld’s animal captivity.  The film uses the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau as a tool for trying to force the company to remove the animals from captivity.

Before I go any further, let me mention that I’m not writing this on behalf of SeaWorld.  I’ve never even set foot inside one of their theme parks.

I’m not going to dissect the entire film and say where it’s misleading or trying to push a message.  I don’t have time for that, and this review is already pretty long.  Instead, we’ll primarily focus on Tilikum and the events surrounding the whale’s past.

Capturing the whales

It’s no surprise that Blackfish uses old footage showing barbaric methods of capturing killer whales in the wild.  These are massive sea creatures, and it takes efforts similar like that to capture them.  It’s not like you’re shooting bears and tigers with tranquilizers and then simply grabbing them while they (and their family members) are sleeping.

Capturing a whale from the ocean requires physically separating it from other members in its pod.  Yes, the other whales are well aware of what’s taking place, and they’re powerless to stop it.  But that’s what it takes to capture a live whale.  Grabbing land animals is much easier, and tranquilizing them helps take off the edge of removing them from their family.

This is something that many people forget when they see magnificent animals in zoos and aquariums.  Where did that exact animal come from?  Was it born in captivity?  Was it injured and rescued but unable to be released again?  Or did somebody simply grab it and toss it into a zoo?  Nobody wants to admit that last part, but that’s how many of the zoos and aquariums got started years ago.  Call it for research, call it for entertainment, or simply classify it as “rescuing” the animal from other dangers.

Is it right to capture animals and hold them in captivity?

That’s a question people have been debating for a very long time now.  Obviously in the case of Blackfish, the answer is NO!

February 20, 1991 – Death of Keltie Byrne at Sealand of the Pacific

Blackfish presents the opinion that the killer whales have been severely angered by their treatment at Sealand of the Pacific aquarium, and they simply snapped when Keltie fell into the water.  The vicious whales let loose their aggressions against their human trainers and brutally killed the young woman.

Nobody is going to argue whether or not the whales suffered from behavioral problems while at Sealand.  That part seems pretty obvious just by studying their extreme living conditions.  The question here is whether or not Tilikum was responsible for Keltie’s death.

The film has two women who witnessed the attack back in 1991, and they’re both positive that it was Tilikum who initiated the attack.

On the other hand, reports indicated that there was a spread in the reports and nobody could officially conclude which whale was responsible.

One has to remember that this attack occurred in February of 1991.  Blackfish was released nearly twenty-two years later in 2013.  Do you really think that people are going to remember details that accurately over such a long time frame?  Sure, they might remember being there and most of the attack itself, but how are we to believe that they remembered which exact whale attacked the trainer?  To the untrained eye, most killer whales look very similar.

Oh, but it was Tilikum because they said so.  Yeah, right.  The people behind Blackfish could have found two other witnesses who claimed that one of the other whales initiated the attack.

All we really know is that Tilikum was associated with the fatal attack against Keltie Byrne.  It’s been stated that humans were not allowed in the whale’s enclosure at Sealand.  For all we know Tilikum might have seen another whale grab Keltie, and he may have thought that it was a toy or some sort of game.  It’s virtually impossible to place any blame on Tilikum since the details are so sketchy and the event happened a long time ago.

July 6, 1999 – Death of Daniel P. Dukes at SeaWorld Orlando

What we know about Dukes’s death is that it occurred overnight while the park was closed, and he was found dead and naked on the back of Tilikum as the whale paraded him around the tank.

The question remains if Tilikum really killed him, or if he died from hypothermia and drowning.

The theory is that Dukes somehow sneaked into SeaWorld Orlando after the park was closed.  He was either hiding somewhere in the park or he managed to break into the park.  Remember that this occurred in 1999 and before theme parks increased their security measures after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Depending where you get your information, Dukes removed his clothes, hopped over a 3-foot tall plexiglass barrier, and past another guardrail fence to enter Tilikum’s enclosure.  He physically made it a point of swimming with the killer whale.  Allegedly some marijuana was also found in his clothes, but none of it was reported in his body during the autopsy.

It’s also mentioned elsewhere that earlier that year, Dukes was removed from the park after being caught swimming with some manatees.  This guy had some kind of fetish for swimming with large marine creatures.

Blackfish implies that Tilikum drowned Dukes and managed to strip him naked and also bite the man a few times, making it look like the whale did the killing.  The film also implies that security was extremely lax.  None of the many security cameras alerted the guards to an intruder, and none of the guards heard any splashing or calls for help.

IF Dukes really was crazy about swimming with the whales, then he’s going to be quiet and sneaky.  He’s not going to call for help, nor is he going to splash around and make noise.  In this case he was probably swimming with Tilikum and having a blast until the cold water in the tank finally rendered him unconscious with hypothermia, and he slipped beneath the waves and drowned.  The autopsy report mentioned that the bite marks were made *after* he was dead.

Why would Tilikum carry his body around the tank?

Maybe the whale made a friend before Dukes died.  Maybe the whale was trying to keep playing with Dukes’s body like he was still alive.

Who really knows?  Until more evidence is released, it’s hard to put the blame of the man’s death on Tilikum.  It’s a much more plausible theory that the man stripped naked, swam around with Tilikum, and quickly developed hypothermia from the cold water and drowned.

December 24, 2009 – Death of Alexis Martinez at Loco Parque

This killer whale death doesn’t have anything to do with Tilikum.

Instead, Blackfish uses this trainer’s death to make SeaWorld look evil and accuse them of lying in court.  There are a few things to point out in this segment of Blackfish.

1) Why in the world are we listening to a former VIDEO SUPERVISOR of all people?  Couldn’t the people behind Blackfish have found somebody with perhaps even a little more credibility than a former video supervisor?

Here you have Loco Parque trainers who were trained in the U.S. (including Alexis Martinez), and you had SeaWorld workers who were working in Loco Parque with the four SeaWorld killer whales.  Couldn’t Blackfish have managed to interview a former trainer, either from SeaWorld or Loco Parque, to tell us personally about the whales or living conditions?  Apparently not since the film has us listening to somebody who is used to working with cameras and making things look more appealing to the audience.

2) If Loco Parque was such a bad place as according to the former video supervisor, then why would SeaWorld intentionally send four killer whales to temporarily live there?

Why would a reputable company such as SeaWorld risk major negative publicity if it was caught intentionally sending its prized killer whales to such deplorable conditions?  After all, SeaWorld is proudly known for helping animals in distress, treating their injuries and releasing them back into the wild.

Perhaps the conditions weren’t as bad at Loco Parque as what the former video supervisor was claiming.  It’s hard to tell since, A) Good luck knowing anybody who actually worked or even visited the park (it *is* located just off the western coast of Africa), and B) Virtually nobody here in the U.S. knows about the park.

3) Was Estefania Rodriguez’s statement a little bit too coincidental?

According to her, the day before he was killed, Alexis was telling her about how the job was so tough and physically demanding.  Really?  Coincidences like that are one in a million.  Had he told her about that in the months or perhaps even weeks before the attack?  Probably.  But did he say it the day before a killer whale killed him?  Most likely not.

Remember that Blackfish is a propaganda film disguised as a documentary, and statements and events will be twisted to push the overall message of the film.

February 24, 2010 – Death of Dawn Brancheau at SeaWorld Orlando

This is the only human death that can be confirmed to Tilikum.

There’s not much a debate as to what really happened.  It’s most likely that the killer whale was having a bad day while performing, and Dawn was probably trying to be extra friendly to the whale near the end of the show.  For some reason, Tilikum decided to grab Dawn by the arm and pull her into the pool.  The whale brutally beat and killed the trainer.

Yes, it’s a terrible thing.  Was Dawn expecting it to happen?  Certainly not.  Would she have blamed the whale for the attack?  Nobody knows.  The end result is that the killer whale killed its trainer.

Best of luck if you’re trying to find the actual video of Dawn being attacked and killed by Tilikum.  It used to be on YouTube a while ago.  A bunch of people have killer whale attack videos mislabeled as the incident with Dawn.  Other people will list the news report videos (heavily edited, of course) of her death and claim that it’s the real attack video.  Beware — The YouTube world is filled with liars and vast amounts of stupidity.

Final thoughts about Blackfish

Once you see through the propaganda and twisting of events, Blackfish is still a fairly interesting film.  Marine predators have always been an interest of mine, and the film has inspired me to go out and learn more about killer whales.  To tell the truth, the way that killer whales socialize and organize their hunts against prey is extremely fascinating.  I could watch them hunt seals in the ice all day.

Blackfish heavily pushes the concept that SeaWorld is an evil company for several reasons.

SeaWorld show “Believe” – original version before Dawn’s death in Feb of 2010

First, the film claims that the company intentionally downplays or hides information about whale attacks to the employees.  It’s presented that the company will lie to protect its reputation and also keep the workers focused on their jobs.  If not, the workers can always be replaced.

SeaWorld show “Believe” – new format after Dawn’s death

Second, the film makes it look like SeaWorld is evil by the way that they handle their killer whales.  Of course, nothing is mentioned about the dolphins, sea lions, manatees, penguins, or thousands of other animals throughout the SeaWorld parks.  Never mind the fact that SeaWorld is famous for the way that they try to rescue and help injured animals all around the world.  No, the company keeps giant whales in a “bathtub,” and it’s their fault that the animals occasionally go psychotic.

SeaWorld show “One Ocean” – current show

And third, SeaWorld is just an evil company.  They need to free their animals and stop them performing circus acts for the mindless sheeple who flock to the parks.

Of course, those are the opinions and attitudes presented in Blackfish.  Those who read between the lines may see things differently.

Blackfish (2013) – movie trailer

The bottom line is this — When you work in potentially dangerous situations, accidents will happen.  People will be hurt and killed.  The same is true whether you work with elephants, fly airplanes, or work in coal mines.  It’s called risk.  If you’re willing to accept it, then so be it.

It’s just a shame that films such as Blackfish present themselves as being a documentary for a noble purpose, but in reality it’s nothing more than propaganda pushing a social issue.  Double check all of the facts and scenarios presented in this film.  Do not take any of it seriously!

one-and-a-half stars