Can you imagine being in a small concrete enclosure for your life when you’re used to swimming 100 miles a day?” — Jeffrey Ventre, former SeaWorld Trainer

Have you ever seen a caged animal pacing back and forth and thought: “Wow, that animal must be so calm and happy with its situation”?

Blackfish is a 2013 documentary directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite about the unethical practices concerning captive killer whales. Right at the start, we hear chilling recordings of the 911 calls released by the Orange County Fire Rescue about the death of Dawn Brancheau, a senior trainer at SeaWorld killed by Tilikum, a killer whale she was performing with. Tilikum pulled his trainer into the water by her ponytail and wouldn’t let her go.

Who is to blame for Dawn Brancheau’s death?

The documentary tries to answer this question by consulting a few of the former trainers and employees of SeaWorld, as well as other experts on orca behavior. They say that Dawn would have blamed herself for what happened, but would that really be fair? We can’t know for sure. We’re told that SeaWorld would definitely want it to be the default case. The truth might just be that the captive orcas are only dangerous because of the psychological damage caused by the conditions they’re kept in.

Blackfish is an informative and engaging documentary that tells a heartbreaking story of how baby orcas are captured in the wild, cruelly taken away from their family groups. These captures always caused great amounts of stress to the animals, and often they also caused their deaths. In captivity, orcas are kept in small pens without any sort of stimulation. In the past, we’re told in the documentary, they were trained with forced starvation and punishment. The whole story of how they get these beautiful creatures to perform is horrifyingly immoral and absolutely disgusting.

SeaWorld did their best to deny that was happening. Those Shamu dolls won’t sell themselves!

We see footage of young trainers bonding with the whales, and we’re told about their social nature and their incredibly complex emotional lives. We’re shown male orcas with collapsed dorsal fins, something that only happens with 1% of killer whales in the wild. We hear mothers crying for their calves as they are taken away from them to be moved to other SeaWorld locations. Why was the calf taken away? Well, as it turns out, it was interfering with it’s mom’s performance in the arena. In the wild, we’re told, the babies never leave their mothers’ side even when they grow up. They’re a family. At SeaWorld, they’re forced to form a group based on what the person in charge decides. There’s no logic in that.

This documentary is captivating, tense and full of shocking evidence and context for the controversial events that took place through the history of killer whale performances. It’s thought provoking, and perhaps its message could also be understood more widely, urging us to consider the conditions animals are being kept in worldwide in zoos and wildlife parks. It’s also a chilling reminder of what an unpredictable and deadly force nature is.

You can’t help but wonder… was it worth it? After Blackfish was released, SeaWorld suffered intense backlash from the traumatized audience who got a glimpse of what was going on behind the scenes, with less and less people visiting their shows and their profits plummeting. And still, some aspects of the documentary have been criticized for being untrue, particularly those about orca behavior in the wild. Was it just an emotional appeal without a solid foundation? We suggest you watch the movie and decide for yourself.

IMDb 4 /5
4 out of 5
Rotten Tomatoes 4.9 /5
4.9 out of 5
Rogue Cinema 4.6 /5
4.6 out of 5

Combined average

4.5out of 5

4.5 out of 5
Category Documentary