Response to Blackfish

            As always, new controversial issues are emerging constantly in the world of science. Focusing specifically on marine life, the subject of animals being kept in captivity has recently been a common topic of discussion. Recently there have been multiple documentaries and articles released exposing the negative effects of keeping marine animals in captivity and this has caused the public to begin questioning and even protesting these marine-life parks.

            The documentary Blackfish, released in July 2013, has been getting a majority of this public attention. Inspired by the death of SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau, Blackfish exposes what goes on behind the scenes at SeaWorld and other marine-life parks around the world that use killer whales for entertainment purposes. The documentary explains why these animals are not meant to be in captivity. Through the film, the public eye becomes exposed to the astonishingly long list of injuries and deaths of professional trainers caused by these killer whales. The explanation of this lies in the fact that a life in captivity is not a life suited for any animal, especially animals of this size. The animals are kept in areas that are far too small and close to one another in comparison to the open sea where they belong. This causes the animals to become irritable and to develop what we would refer to as “cabin fever” because these animals instinctively know that this is not the situation they belong in.

Former SeaWorld employee Dawn Brancheau  pictured with killer whale, Tilikum, who later attacked her and caused her death.

            Another major aspect of the film that appeals to any viewers’ emotions is the finding out that SeaWorld in fact separates families, shipping the babies to other parks, never to be reunited with their mothers. According to studies done by the Humane Society and other well renowned organizations, maintaining family units is a vital part of the lives of these animals. It is hard enough to create a family unit with the non-blood related individuals they are placed with in captivity. Forcibly separating mother from child is not only amoral, but also taking away a fundamental element in the lives of these animals.

            Blackfish has received so much attention that SeaWorld has had no choice but to attempt to put up a defense against the public who have been vigorously questioning and protesting them since the documentary became public. With the documentary featuring first hand accounts from former SeaWorld trainers and employees, the information is difficult for SeaWorld to dispute. SeaWorld claims that the research they do benefits killer whales in the wild and that they do everything in their power to care for the animals. SeaWorld labels Blackfish as “propaganda” rather than a documentary and claims that nearly all the information in the film is false. Though making these claims, SeaWorld fails to provide much evidence to support them.

            Blackfish is not the first documentary to bring this problem to public attention. The Cove, released in 2009, is another film made in the same light, exposing the capturing and slaughtering of dolphins in Taiji, Japan. Though this documentary’s main focus mainly on the dolphins that are killed, they also touch on the dolphins held in captivity and used for entertainment purposes and how wrong the entire process is.

            There is evidence that these and other marine animals are actually very self-aware creatures, thought to be on the same level as humans in this aspect, if not very close to us. The amount of stress/anxiety related deaths of these animals while in captivity is another list that is long enough to shock anyone. The question at this point is of ethics; does the end really outweigh the means? Are the lives of these trainers and these animals worth the billion-dollar industry that has been created through the captivity process? Even in knowing that these animals are instinctively aware that they do not belong where they are kept? Is it moral to disturb the lives of these animals and force them into an environment that is described by the Humane Society to be “completely unnatural?” It’s about time to reevaluate our morals when it comes to the damage done for the purpose of entertainment.