The documentary Blackfish is a comprehensive though definitely one-sided examination of the ethical practices of the marine park industry. It opens with a 2010 call to the the sheriff’s department concerning the death of Sea World senior trainer Dawn Brancheau at the hands of killer whale Tilikum. It was a gruesome end that received a great deal of media attention and led to a lawsuit against Sea World by Occupational Safety and Health (OSHA). The court case progresses throughout the film as director Gabriela Cowperthwaite traces the tragic life of Tilikum who was violently herded 39 years earlier and had lived an often violent life in isolated captivity ever since thus leading to a psychosis that would explain the three human deaths associated with the whale. Sea World’s seemingly horrendous treatment of Tilikum is front and center and a great deal of the multi-billion dollar company’s questionable business ethics and sleazy p.r. tactics are brought to light. Sea World’s lack of participation in the film is noticeable, which really helps paint them as the villains that Cowperthwaite believes them to be.
Blackfish is filled with interesting information, certainly plenty of facts that justify its accusations. Both frustrating and heartbreaking for animal lovers, and hopefully eye-opening for the disinterested, it’s almost impossible to not side with the film once exposed to the horrors exposed therein.
By the way, “blackfish” is a fisherman’s term for the killer whale, which they believe “holds great spiritual power and are not to be messed with.”
Blackfish opens tomorrow at the Ritz Five.