Sunday, October 27, 2013

Blackfish


A killer whale swims past the mouth of Columbia Bay in Alaska's Prince William Sound.

It's taken a while to come around to the right frame of mind to watch the movie "Blackfish."  It was bound to be upsetting.  It's about Sea World and captive killer whales, focused largely on the death of Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in February 2010.  After seeing the movie I am more convinced than ever that Sea World, or anyone else for that matter, should be shut down and never again allowed to hold a whale in captivity, Having read about the whales and Sea World and participating in the effort to stop them from capturing whales in Alaska's Prince William Sound, I sort of knew what to expect, but to tell the truth the situation is far worse than I had thought.

To begin with I  have to take back what I have said about the trainers after watching several former trainers in tears during the movie discussing how the whales are treated.  What came across was that for the most part the trainers were very idealistic young people enthralled with the whales and the idea of working with them, but who knew little about their natural history.

To compound that problem Sea World management consistently lied to them or misled them or just flat didn't tell them much about the whales.  And, the new employees had no reason not to trust what the management was telling them, Sea World managers were supposed to be the experts. One striking segment focused on the lies in the Sea World spiel that the young people had to give customers thinking it was all true.  One that stood out in the movie was that the whales only live to be 25 or 30 years old. That is the extreme age for whales in captivity and few of Sea World's captives live even that long; the average is more like 11 years.  In the wild males live into their 70s and females can reach 100.

From the movie it is obvious these trainers whom  I had expressed no sympathy for when they get batted around by the whales are almost as captive to Sea World management as the whales are. They aren't told about incidents with whales that are often termed accidents. They are fed false information and lured into believing they are safe in the water with the ocean's top-level predator. They also weren't told about specific whales with a history of attacking trainers.  According to the movie, there have been at least 70 attacks in Sea World parks over the years, none of which the new trainers were told about.

Sea World went so far as to blame Dawn Brancheau for the whale's attack that killed her, claiming the whale had pulled her down by a pony tail in her hair which she shouldn't have had. According to the movie, autopsy results showed she was first pulled into the water by her arm.

Given all that, I have to pull back from blaming trainers and having no sympathy for them.  Granted they should have learned more about the whales before they took the job but when I was that age I can totally see myself lured by the temptation to jump into that water, too.

At the end in the credits it said Sea World was invited to be interviewed and the offer was refused every time. In an ad for the movie on CNN, a Sea World written response said the movie was entirely one-sided.  For one thing they could have presented their side, for a second, to my mind there is only one side to this issue.

Something else about the movie was bothersome.  In all the arguments I had with Sea World people they often hauled out the tired claim that what they do advances the science around killer whales. Not one mention was made in the movie about any scientific knowledge Sea World has contributed. Sea World science claims have always been suspect as just a verbal front for the true mission of making money off killer whales. As a matter of fact the management actually concealed what they knew about killer whale behavior from their employees.

The Occupational Health and Safety Agency investigated Sea World after the death and the agency's eventual ruling was that trainers in the future had to be separated from the whales by a barrier. At the time the movie was made, Sea World had appealed that decision.

The OSHA decision is fine and a step in the direction of safety for the trainer.  Now all we need to do is address the safety of the whales. Overall you leave the movie convinced that animals used to ranging over thousands of miles of ocean do not belong in concrete swimming pools.




#blackfish, #seaworld, #killer whales

1 comment:

  1. Hello Tim. I hope your impassioned words reach the right people who will try to end the cruelty of captivity. These majestic animals are more like us than we ever knew. Learning of their capacity for emotion is the most surprising and heart-breaking part of this film. It is painful to watch. The young idealistic trainers were forced to learn the hard way about whales, whose ability to communicate becomes unforgettably clear when mothers scream and cry for their stolen offspring. And if the trainer didn't survive his or her final "lesson" of what whales confined all their lives in bathtubs can do, the tragedy is compounded. It is enough. Whales belong in the wild. They need to be free.

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