I’ve always had a soft spot for whales, orcas in particular. Writing this post has been difficult because I have so many conflicting thoughts about this documentary and the subject it discusses.
Blackfish came out in 2013. By telling the story of Tilikum, a large male orca whale taken into captivity, it highlighted the differences in lifestyle and behavior of wild versus captive orcas.
I didn’t watch this documentary blind- having been through two semesters of oceanography classes in college, I knew the basics, I knew that orcas are extremely smart and sensitive animals. Through scientific study, they have been found to be the most intelligent marine mammal, and after humans, they are the second most widely-distributed animal on the planet. These whales are social animals and have an extremely complex system of sounds for communicating and hunting food. Some studies have gone so far as to say they may have a “sense of self” and a more complex range of emotions than humans, because of an extra lobe in their brain that is believed to be used for emotional processing.
Although this “killer whale” has been given the stereotype of feared predator, there are no records of an orca doing any harm to humans in the wild. The opposite is true for those in captivity. Tilikum, as well as other whales previously free and captured for the use of various sea life attraction parks all over the world, have been the unfortunate end to dozens of trainers. Can they be blamed? As the documentary said, “If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?”
I remember visiting SeaWorld in Orlando when I was a child, I remember the Shamu show. I remember, even then, feeling strange while watching the show. Looking back now, I was struggling with conflicting senses of awe and heartache as I watched these massive creatures swimming around their miniature fabricated habitat, as I still do today.
It’s a confusing thing for spectators and trainers, as the documentary pointed out- we bring these animals closer to us so we can study them, interact, form relationships, and try to understand their species. Many of the people involved have sincere intentions, but even the best intentions can have negative side effects. Captive orcas face all kinds of health and social-related issues, many experience dorsal fin collapse and gashes and wounds inflicted by other whales in the tank. An animal that intelligent and powerful, coming from a family with its own language and way of life, an animal that previously knew wildness, is not genetically built to be confined to a tank.
This documentary will make anyone with a heart stop and think. It was haunting- it stuck in the back of my head for weeks after having watched it. I don’t know the answers to the questions this documentary raises, but I do think the interviews, video footage, and information presented in the documentary was a great representation of both sides of the argument and really shed light on many of the facts about orca captivity that do not come up in every-day conversation. I would seriously recommend taking a few hours out of your day to watch it on Netflix if you are at all interested in the issue, or even just trying to learn something and expand your viewpoints.