As I sat in the theater waiting for the movie to start, I tapped my foot with anxiety unsure of what was about to be revealed. I was rattled with nerves, anticipating a horror scene to unfold before my eyes. Within two minutes of the documentary starting, my eyes welled up with uncontrollable tears of grief.
When I first heard about Blackfish, I knew I had to see it while also realizing that it was going to be extremely devastating. I bought tickets ahead of time because I wanted to see it on opening night with the main reason being Dr. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist and professor at Emory who was featured in the film, planned to do a Q&A after the movie.
Blackfish is a documentary that reveals the extreme cruelty and unfortunate reality of what happens to mammals at marine parks, specifically SeaWorld. The whole film was very well done and I recommend that everyone should watch this movie, not just vegans and animals rights activists. The showing I went to was packed to the brims with all types of people. This was the line for the next showing when we were leaving the theater, which was completely wrapped around Midtown Arts Cinema in Atlanta!
There were so many moments where I gasped with my hand over my mouth, in shock of what I was seeing. Ex-trainers from SeaWorld delved into the harsh truths of how these precious, kindhearted mammals are treated. The director of Blackfish, Gabriela Cowperthwaite, was quoted saying:
“I think the most amazing fact I learned was that they have a part of the brain that we don’t have—a part that we can’t even identify. This suggests that they sense, understand, and even feel more than we do. It still blows me away to think about it.”
These intelligent mammals who thrive in communities are basically living in bathtubs their entire lives and the results of this torture is beyond upsetting. Tilikum, who is mainly featured in this film, has been involved in the deaths of several – not just one, but several – trainers. If that’s not a red flag that there is animal retaliation happening here from the decades of abuse, then I don’t know what is. Not to mention, they are using this bull orca’s DNA to breed at least 50% of other killer whales that will be held captive in SeaWorld, which is extremely frightening to think of what is in store for the future. And SeaWorld gets away with all of it because they are a multi-billion dollar business! It all boils down to money and greed. And it breaks my heart, truly.
The documentary not only highlights how poorly the animals are treated, but it also goes into how people, like the trainers, are manipulated to be a part of SeaWorld’s grand scheme. I was actually moved to tears during the parts where the humans told their roles in this tragedy. There was a man at the very beginning of the movie that was part of the crew that caught Tilikum, who was crying and very remorseful. His story showed me that he had been a pawn, among many, played to satisfy corporate greed.
Now that I’ve completely depressed you, I’ll share some information that isn’t all doom and gloom. The good news is that this film has made major waves (pun intended) since its release. Not only is Finding Nemo 2 changing their ending so they’re not highlighting a marine park anymore, but SeaWorld is drastically losing profits. So, there have been victories that continue to arise that I believe mainly have to do with the movie being so successful and widely reached.
People’s eyes are open and we are finally awake about the real horrors of SeaWorld and all marine parks. I do hope that this translates for people that it’s not just SeaWorld who is at fault here. It is all corporations who hold animals in captivity and who exploit these sentient beings for their own greed. This includes, but is not limited to, zoos, circuses, aquariums, petting zoos, and safaris.
During the Q&A after the movie, Dr. Lori Marino was asked repeatedly by the audience, “What can we do to help?” Her response was to avoid places like SeaWorld and the Georgia Aquarium. Plain and simple, don’t give your money to corporations that hold animals captive. She also advised to educate others and be vocal about the movie.
In response to another audience member’s question regarding the mammal’s social sophistication, she explained that they are cultural beings and they aren’t meant to be mixed within other cultures, which is exactly what SeaWorld does. They’re very family oriented and the male orcas stay with their moms their entire lives (Tilikum was torn away from his family at the young age of 2). The orcas have complex brains and an MRI has shown her that they exhibit social expressions at a highly complex level.
Someone asked if we phase out captivity, what will happen to the orcas? Dr. Marino explained that Tilikum doesn’t know what it’s like to be a real orca. Marine mammals like Tilikum stop echolocating (their strongest sense) and start grating their teeth along the gates, among other disturbing behaviors. They get infections in their teeth because they are so worn down, and Tilikum has to get drillings done every day with no anesthesia because his teeth are so bad. In order to release the animals into the wild, there would have to be sanctuaries created with coves in the ocean penned off to give them enough space to swim for miles, but kept away from wild orcas. Some orcas can be rehabilitated and then released into the wild; unfortunately, Tilikum cannot have this option because he was so young when he was captured.
Seeing as how we have the Georgia Aquarium right here in Atlanta, people were asking Dr. Marino’s opinion about the beluga whales. Dr. Marino mentioned that beluga whales do exceedingly worse than orcas in captivity, and that dolphins and whales are extremely incompatible with being held in aquariums. What animal does excel in captivity, though? Dr. Marino made an excellent point during her talk – Tilikum and all other captive animals have no rights and are treated like property. Unfortunately this is the reality right now, but maybe we can help change the future for these animals. I am happy to report that recently after the movie premiered in Atlanta, the Georgia Aquarium was denied a permit to import 18 Beluga whales from Russian seas. This was a major win in the animal rights movement because that means 18 more whales that are left alone to be in the wild, as they were intended to live.
The movie and Dr. Lori Marino’s Q&A made for one incredible evening. My favorite quote from the night was when Dr. Lori Marino said:
“The tide is turning…we’ll look back and say I can’t believe we did something like that.”
If Blackfish has already passed through your town and you can’t wait for it to come out on Netflix or DVD, you can stream the movie here.
Have you seen Blackfish? If so, please share your thoughts in the comments.