Director Gabriella Cowperthwaite’s documentary about SeaWorld Orlando’s orcas (killer whales, “blackfish”) especially “Tilikum”, captured in 1983, is a transformative, illuminating expose; hauntingly embarrassing for all who have ever visited, thoroughly loved watching the amazing, propelling feats, performed by supposedly domesticated mammals, as they partner and interact with their trainers.
February 24th, 2010, Dawn Brancheau a seasoned, vibrant, caring trainer was killed by Tilikum (his third fatal incident), launching a major evasive “cover up” by SeaWorld, blaming Dawn’s Rapunzel-like ponytail for instigating the attack; the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration, after viewing horrific footage and eyewitnesses accounts, sued.
This fascinating documentary is weighty in addressing the problematic issues of enslaving animals that should remain in their natural habitat. Orcas are highly intelligent, sensitive and social, to the point of attacking only when provoked, (“Moby Dick”) while in the wild; their familial loyalty is astounding; the most painful scenes in the film are the heart-wrenching cries of mothers separated, cauterized from their offspring while in captivity.
Told from the viewpoint of past trainers, captors and managers an insidious injustice emerges; man’s inhumanity to mammals; whales confined to myopic spaces, starved because of mediocre performances, wounded in battles with each other, skirmishes that never occur in the ocean; strangled identity, in essence, legalized slavery. Remarkable, that there have not been more uprisings; clamoring for vast, cold, boundary- less waters.
Last year’s excellent “Rust and Bone” dealt with a fictional wounding of an orca trainer. “Blackfish’s” potency lies in the reality of deceased trainers; men and women who adored their profession and protégés; gone, because of man’s power to exploit, imprison, without punitive accountability, blackfish.
Exiting, contemplating man’s culpability in the incarceration of animals for entertainment (and massive financial rewards): circuses, zoos, aquariums; squeamish, moral dilemma, desperately screaming for a solution.