Film #9: Blackfish

Blackfish begins and ends with the killing of the trainer Dawn Brancheau by the orca Tilikum at Sea World Orlando in 2010. The rest of the film traces Tilikum’s history with Sea World, highlighting the corporate practices at the park and the experiences of former orca trainers to call attention to the injustice of keeping creatures whom some scientists claim have more emotional intelligence than humans as performing prisoners.

Overall score: 4 out of 4

I have to preface by saying that, while I’m completely sympathetic to animal rights causes, they’re not the thing that moves me.

The film was chock full of former Sea World trainers, talking about their own experiences of the park’s policies and procedures. I was surprised that none of the trainers was selected on the basis of their knowledge of marine biology or animal psychology. The prerequisites for the job seemed to include physical energy and stamina, and how the applicants looked in a wetsuit.

The trainers were encouraged to form emotional attachments to their designated animals, and incidents where orcas injured or killed trainers were hushed up such that trainers in other Sea World parks heard nothing about it. Those incidents where trainers did hear about the deaths, they were told that the deaths were due to trainer error, even when videos clearly showed otherwise.

Orca experts also weighed in, talking about the differences between orca sociality and behavior in the wild and sociality and behavior in captivity. They talked about the problems of holding 15′ long animals who, in the wild, would be roaming a hundred miles of day in tanks that were perhaps only a few hundred feet long.

It was hard to see the problems and consequences of orcas in captivity without thinking about the problems and consequences of the very large population that the United States holds in prison. The U.S. holds a larger percentage of its population in prison than any other country in the world, and sees nothing wrong with keeping other human beings in tiny cells with very little stimulation for years at a time. Why should we see anything wrong with doing the same to other intelligent creatures?

Blackfish was an intriguing and thought-provoking film, but at the end of the day, I still see my own duty in helping my fellow human beings. I feel that only by helping other humans fully realize their humanity can they begin to look around and exercise that humanity by showing compassion to other kinds of life.

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