Film Review: Blackfish

A documentary looking at the treatment of killer whales kept in captivity and used for entertainment, and how this can have disastrous consequences.

Even for the most ardent animal lover, it can be easy to get swept up in seeing animals such as killer whales perform backflips and carry humans around on their nose. Witnessing such massive and majestic creatures do such tricks is simply fascinating. However, when the show’s over and everyone’s gone home, the cold, harsh reality is that these creatures have been pulled out of their natural habitat, separated from their family and forced to live in cramped environments, and that’s what Blackfish wants everyone to know.

We hear from various ex-SeaWorld employees who have seen first-hand how these animals are treated and the effects captivity has on the killer whales. They talk fondly of their affection for the animals but have become horrified at the distress these animals are in. This distress sometimes manifests itself in not-as-rare-as-we’re-led-to-believe incidents in which trainers are killed or badly injured.

This is shocking enough, but what truly hits home is the mental anguish the whales are in. Not only do the whales attack each other after being cramped up for so long but their mental states also disintegrates. Seeing footage of a whale mourning the loss of her calf after they’re separated is genuinely heartbreaking and gets the message across far more effectively than the incidents with humans.

However, Blackfish does have one fundamental flaw, and that’s how one-sided it is. Whilst it’s fine enough for a documentary to push a message, it owes it those involved, as well as its audience, to offer some kind of counter-argument. In this case, we only really hear from those against using killer whales for entertainment. You may strongly agree with that view, but the opposition still have a view worth hearing. To give the filmmakers their due, they did ask SeaWorld for a comment but the invitation was declined at the time (although they have since responded). This isn’t the filmmakers’ fault but the documentary is poorer as a result.

Despite that, the facts are presented very well, and they simply cannot be argued against. It’s an incredibly powerful documentary that goes far beyond the what the public see when they pay their SeaWorld admission fee. If you think these shows look like good entertainment, Blackfish may well make you think twice.

4 pigeons4/5 pigeons

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33 thoughts on “Film Review: Blackfish

  1. Gene says:

    Good comments, Chris. We took a look at this one too at LTBM. CNN ran a special on this and had some experts on for discussion afterwards and it was a pretty lively discussion as you could imagine. I was also shocked to hear how regular the incidents are. The scene with the whale dragging the man down to the bottom of the pool over and over again was tough to watch.

    • Thanks Gene. Yeah I can imagine it riled up quite a few people and got a good discussion going. The footage was really tough to watch, I agree. I actually felt really tense when watching it, which wasn’t how I thought I’d feel.

  2. jjames36 says:

    Very good review. Representing SeaWorld would have made the movie better, but when your target refuses cooperation, it’s hard to involve them, like you said.

    Coperthwaite also includes at least one counterargument, near the end of the movie. In other words, I agree this one is biased, but I don’t think that’s for lack of effort on the director’s part.

  3. Great review, Chris. I have no problem boycotting Seaworld. I don’t have a problem with the bias and think animals should be in their natural habitat. So–does that mean we dissolve the zoos and aquariums as well? Many do a great service when they are sanctuaries. Many heavily educate and create a respect from visitors and they gain awareness and toleration and empathy to protect. ‘Tis the loveliness of documentaries. They make you think about and discuss an issue–it is more powerful than the average film.

    • Thanks Cindy! It’s a really difficult argument, isn’t it? I mean SeaWorld do a lot of good conservation work as well but they need to sort out a lot of their processes and regulations by the sounds of things. As for zoos, they can be incredibly important in breeding and conservation as long as they treat their animals correctly and provide adequate space for them. It’s a really interesting issue!

  4. Great review. I was very moved by this documentary, I just wish SeaWorld would’ve actually participated instead of just trying to bash it when it came out. They’re making themselves look bad as a result.

  5. Think I might get too angry watching this. Excellent stuff Chris.

  6. Nice post, Chris. I’ll give this one a watch…

  7. Nick Powell says:

    Oh man… I love watching documentaries that make me feel like absolute shit for a month before I forget about them entirely and then go about whatever I was doing before!

  8. ruth says:

    I was so upset after watching The Cove and I swore I’d never go to Sea World again. I think this one would be just as upsetting.

  9. ckckred says:

    Nice review. This is the first time I’ve heard of this and it sounds very interesting.

  10. sati says:

    Oh I couldn’t watch that. That mourning scene you mentioned? I’d cry for weeks. i cannot stand to see animals in distress.

  11. Geat review! Very curious about this doc. Living so close to San Diego, I grew up going to Sea World.

  12. Watching Blackfish makes you understand how manipulate and cruel SeaWorld is, the way they handled the death of Dawn Brancheau is despicable. Seeing the way they changed their excuses on how she died (and blaming Dawn for the death) really frustrated me.

    That mourning scene was so awful! I hope it gets the awards recognition it deserves.

    Great review!

  13. Good review! I FINALLY had a free moment earlier this week to watch this only to discover Netflix had removed it!!!

  14. Tom says:

    Solid review dude. This thing made me very sad. I mean, I’m no hippie but the inhumanity of the treatment of these beautiful creatures is too much to take, particularly in that scene you mentioned. This was pretty well-done but too tough to watch twice.

  15. Victor De Leon says:

    Very good review! Nice and insightful. I enjoyed this film and was quite shocked through out my time watching it. I gave it a good write up as well but it was a tough one to bang out since I was still quite reeling from it. Good job!

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