Opening 7 Nov 2013
Gabriela Cowperthwaite has crafted an unforgettable, breathtaking documentary. Meet Tilikum: a performing bull orca weighing 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg) known to have killed three individuals. Meet past Sea World (SW) whale trainers who talk about how much they loved working with the marine mammals – “in awe”, “when you look into their eyes you know someone is home”. Plus, with hindsight and sometimes tears in their eyes, of how they bought into SW’s jargon. Meet researchers who lay out facts, and the history of orca whales. Beginning with Dawn Brancheau’s – a senior and safety conscience SW whale trainer – untimely death on February 24, 2010, we shift as far back as 39 years and forward to a 2012 court decision. What we learn along the way can only make one wonder, which is the predator?
A matriarchal society, orcas travel in pods that are equivalent to separate nations. Each family speaks their own unique language, males stay with mom’s pod – Tilikum was captured at 2-years, they swim approximately 100 miles a day, and their lifespan is comparable to humans. In the wild, nations never mix – SW capture and imprison injudiciously, or attack one another since they have thousands of miles to swim away. Orcas in the wild seldom assault much less kill a human. Their brains are bigger than humans: their sense of self, and social bonding is higher than humans. Blackfish feature strongly in indigenous cultures mythologies.
Apparent is the painstaking research and compilations of archival footage that make this film both comprehensibly informative, and heart wrenching. There are graphic segments: the result of caged whales raking (biting) when confined in small tanks, a San Diego SW trainer being crushed during a performance, and orcas injuring trainers at various theme parks. Public awareness can bring change – Pixar adjusted the ending of an upcoming animated film after viewing Blackfish. With its November release in the US, there is nothing like negative public opinion to force the powers that be to make productive changes. Suggestions have been put forth that would be humane for the trainers, and more humanitarian for the whales. Let’s hope Sea World pays attention. (Marinell Haegelin)