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Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Blackfish (2013) - review

A several ton creature leaps out of the water, flies high in the air then crashes into the water creating a wave big enough to splash and soak several rows of audience members.  Few, if any, theme park experiences can produce such awe as the killer whale show at Sea World.  Little to the audiences knowledge, even though the show tells you about the playful, happy lives of their whales, all is not well at the marine park. 

In recent years, the parks have been in the spotlight after the much publicized attack during one of the family oriented shows.  Long time trainer, Dawn Brancheau, was dragged under the water by a whale named, Tilikum, held under water until she drowned.  The rest of the staff was helpless, unable to do anything but wait for the whale to release the trainer's body, which did not happen for quite some time and only after it had dismembered and caused great distress to the body.  Sea World dimissed it a tragic case of trainer error, a rare incident.  The doc reveals the incident is not isolated and makes a case for it not being trainer error at all.

The whale, Tilikum, has a sketchy past - from bites, aggressive behavior to three deaths.  The film educates the viewer about the intelligence and emotional complexity of the creatures and uses that as the basis for the argument that these "incidents" are often not accidents, but rather the actions of a highly intelligent creature that has been held in captivity for way too long.

Why keep it as part of the act if it is putting trainers in danger?  The simple answer is what you would expect, money.  Tilikum, as displayed in somewhat unsettling detail, is used to breed other killer whales - a multimillion dollar business.  When there is no logical answer, the real answer is usually money.


The doc may be a bit one-sided (most docs are.)  Seeing that Sea World was unwilling to be interviewed for the film there is not much of a counter argument.  Since its premiere at Sundance, the doc has lead to terrible press for the amusement parks and the cancellation of several musical acts that had scheduled performance there.  Since then they have purchased several full page ads in national publications refuting some of the claims of the film.

It is hard to watch this film and not be affected.  I have viustied the park numerous times over the years.  Can I take my family to see a show that provided me with so much joy during my youth?  That's something I will need to answer for myself.  Like an effective documentary should do it has me thinking, questioning and discussing.

8.5 out of 10

Find it streaming on Netflix

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