Documentary Film Blackfish, The Truth Behind SeaWorld
The documentary film Blackfish takes a critical and condemning look at what has really happened behind the walls of SeaWorld’s parks—told through the personal stories of former SeaWorld employees and trainers. Oral testimonies and accusations of past trainers reveal a business full of massive cover-ups, dishonesty and misinformation to the media, the public and even SeaWorld employees. It also exposes a business that has operated on a foundation of inhumane and abusive treatment of killer whales in captivity—for big profits. The film discloses some history of SeaWorld’s parks dating back to SeaLand in Victoria, Canada in 1991. The unsettling and distressing opening scenes show footage of how SeaWorld captures its orcas from the ocean, and how they transport them to their parks, and train them to become performance animals.
The film follows the sad and disturbing story of one particular whale, Tilikum, a controversial bull orca that has led to the deaths of three people and has been with SeaWorld for over 30 years. Today, sadly, Tilikum is dying prematurely at 32 years of age. What the film suggests is that SeaWorld is partly if not wholly to blame for those deaths—not Tilikum, because SeaWorld has disrespected and violated orcas’ innate needs—their social and family needs, their need for space and open waters, their need for family and their mothers, and their need to live separate from other orca family members in the same pools—SeaWorld has caused deep emotional, physical and psychological stress for Tilikum, many say to “the breaking point.”
Also to blame, are people and the general public who attend and pay to see marine-animal acts and who keep these parks in business. People need to understand that wild animals don’t want to entertain humans, they are forced to. These orcas and other marine mammals and wildlife want to remain in the wild where they belong, where they are born, and is natural for them—not live in captivity where they can hardly move, are forced to perform on a human imposed schedule, and forced to “work” seven days a week—all for corporate profit-taking.
Some of the Inhumane Issues for Orcas at SeaWorld Parks
- Forced capture – Whales are captured by rounding them up with multiple boats and herding them into coves. Females know their young will be kidnapped from them and try desperately to protect and defend their young. The orcas cannot leave, they are trapped. SeaWorld corrals the young and nets them to isolate and capture them. The mothers and babies desperately cry and call to each other. Whales can and do often die in this process, and SeaWorld has been known to sink the dead to the bottom of the ocean when this happens, so as not to be detected or blamed for their deaths. This is illegal.
- Families are broken up – Families of whales tend to be large and they live and travel together in pods for many years—often a lifetime. For SeaWorld, these families are broken up, forced apart, and forever shattered.
- Training techniques – Whales are often trained using punishment, so if they don’t perform to trainer’s expectations, punishment is issued by withholding food and meals, making the whales frustrated.
- Extremely small pools for captivity – The whales are kept confined in extremely small pools their entire lifetime, where there is no freedom to swim, to swim to depths, to join other whales in pods and families, and to exhibit any natural behaviors. This causes them deep anxiety, anger, stress, frustration and psychosis.
- At night all lights are turned off – To avert problems with intruders releasing the whales at night, all lights are turned off while whales are kept in captivity in small pools together. This has caused them to attack each other and when trainers arrive the next morning, they find whales with scrapes, scratches, wounds, blood—they have been attacked and rammed, sometimes killed. This is unique to whales in captivity, they don’t behave this way in the wild where they have space and are not unnaturally confined.
- Mother and calf are separated at SeaWorld – Killer whales or orca families can stay together an entire lifetime, so breaking the mother-offspring relationship when they are young is devastating for them. SeaWorld has forced babies away from their mothers, and put them into separate pools or relocated them to another park altogether, causing deep psychosis, depression, frustration, stress and misery for mother and baby. The mother screams and cries for her baby and grieves for months sometimes years. It’s deeply inhumane and cruel.
- Orcas live significantly shorter lifetimes in captivity – Orcas in captivity live about 40-60 years shorter than orcas in the wild. Female orcas typically live 80-100 years in the wild and male orcas live 60-80 years in the wild, however, orcas at SeaWorld die typically between 10-35 years old. Over 62 orcas have died at SeaWorld parks, and not one of old age.
- Whales in captivity confined with different families – Whale families usually don’t mix well and should not be held together in captivity, but in SeaWorld’s pools they put whales together from different families causing constant aggression, violence, tension, stress, fighting and death. Whales have seriously injured and died in captivity at SeaWorld as a result of doing what they should never have done.
What You Can Do to Help
- Don’t patronize or attend SeaWorld’s parks or any business that uses confined wild animals for entertainment or profit. Circuses, dolphinariums, swimming with the dolphins, holding wild animals – all of these and more, contribute to the captivity and inhumane treatment of animals that disrespects them, compromises their health and wellbeing, and forces them into an unnatural life—for human pleasure and entertainment. Appreciate them from a respectful distance or watch them on TV!
- Join the fight and campaigns to end SeaWorld’s continued use and abuse of orcas, as well as all businesses that use, abuse and confine wild animals.
- Share this on social media with friends and family!
Some Quotes from the Film
“It’s like kidnapping a little kid from a mother.” ~ Former employee
“It’s the worst thing I can think of, I can’t think of anything worse.” ~ Former employee
“If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?” ~ Jane Valez-Mitchell
“When the whole thing was over—there were three dead whales. They had us cut the dead whales open, fill them with rocks, and then sink them. I didn’t even think about it being illegal.” ~ Former employee
“We’ll look back, and in 50 years we’ll look back and say my God, what a barbaric time.” ~ Former employee
“To this day there’s no record of any orca doing any harm to humans in the wild.” ~ Former employee
“All whales in captivity have a bad life. They are all ticking time bombs.” ~ Former employee
“It’s time to stop the shows, it’s time to stop forcing animals to perform in a circus environment. They should release these animals. These animals should be released to the open ocean pen, so they can just experience their lives.” ~ Former employee
“This is multi-billion dollar corporation that makes its money through the exploitation of orcas. They are not suitable to have in captivity. The whales are really bored; you deprive them of all this environmental stimulation.” ~ Former employee
“He’s killing (Tilikum) because he’s frustrated, and he has no outlet for it. He’s now spending tons of time by himself, and he’s just floating lifeless going around in a circle. He lives in a jail cell, that’s his life. I feel sad when I see him.” ~ Former employee
“I don’t want my 3-year-old daughter to think it’s normal to see whales like this in captivity entertaining people. They are intelligent highly evolved animals in concrete pools. I think it’s atrocious. SeaWorld says Dawns death is an isolated incident.” ~ Former employee
“We separated the baby from the mom, Kalina was removed from Katina the mother. She stayed in the corner of the pool screaming, screeching and crying. She wouldn’t move, she was deeply grieving for her baby that disappeared.” ~ Former employee
“Takara got moved to Florida and the mother made vocals that no one had ever heard before, looking for her calf. It was heart breaking. How could anyone look at that and think it was morally acceptable. It is not OK. It is not OK!” ~ Former employee
“All SeaLand in Victoria, Canada was—was a net hanging in a marina with a float around it. The previous trainer used techniques that involved punishment of Tilikum. If Tilikum didn’t do it, then both whales were punished. They weren’t fed. Certain times of certain seasons that Tilikum’s skin would be ‘raked’ – his skin was covered in scratches.” ~ Former trainer
“It didn’t feel good at all. You would come in the morning, and you would see new scratches and blood. It’s not only inhumane, but it probably led to a psychosis. It probably led to a hair trigger where he could kill.” ~ Former trainer
“SeaLand of the Pacific’s (Canada) closing was probably a good thing, it was just a little pond. The blush was gone from the business. So in the newspaper articles it said she accidentally drowned. SeaLand wanted to make a buck on the way out—so they sold Tilikum and the other whales, before closing.” ~ Former employee
“Orcas scream out intelligence and intellect. They have part of a brain that humans don’t have. These are animals that have highly elaborated emotional lives. Much stronger, much more complex than other animals, including humans. Everything about them is social.” ~ Former trainer
“We just really bought into what they told us.” ~ Former trainer
“50 percent of all whales at SeaWorld parks are from Tilikum’s genes. He’s been one of the main breeding animals at SeaWorld, cut why would you ever breed an animals to have Tilikum’s genes?” (since he’s killed  people) ~ Former trainer
“OSHA asked me what I thought we learned 20 years later, my only answer is ‘NOTHING. We haven’t learned a damn thing 20 years later!” ~ Former trainer
“I’ve been here long enough that made me question what we were doing with these animals.” ~ Former trainer
Originally Released: July 19, 2013 (New York City)
Length of Film: 1 hour / 30 minutes
Awards: Full list of awards
- Won, Best Documentary – Gold Trailer Awards, 2014
- Won, Best Documentary – Las Vegas Film Critics Society Awards, 2013
- The Satellite Award for Best Documentary Film
- 2nd Place, Best Documentary – Boston Society of Film Critics Awards, 2013
- 2nd Place, Best Documentary – Dublin Film Critics Circle Awards, 2013
- 2nd Place, Best Documentary – Florida Film Critics Circle Awards, 2013
Watch Blackfish on iTune, Amazon and Google Play
Watch free on Netflix with account
Article about Tilikum’s tragic story from Seaworld of Hurt
Director: Gabriela Cowpethwaite
Producer: Manny Oteyza
Production Company: CNN Films
Sadly, Tilikum passed away on January 6, 2017. His life of misery, confinement, depression, deprivation and boredom – has come to an end.