Blackfish (15)

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite
FACT, Liverpool
From 26 July 2013

Reviewed by Colin Serjent

Blackfish is a damning expose of the cruelty meted out to orca whales at the 'entertainment complex' at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida.

It analyses the death in 2010 of whale trainer Dawn Brancheau, by tracing the background of her attacker: Tilikum, a Killer Whale, the largest member of the dolphin species.

Orcas , which have the second biggest brain among ocean mammals, go after fish and smaller mammals, but not humans, as portrayed in the nondescript film, Orca, with Richard Harris among the cast. As mentioned in Blackfish, an orca has never killed a human in the wild.

The film includes a lot of first-hand testimony from former trainers employed by SeaWorld - they must have had a high turnover of staff there!

Most, if not all, regretted the conditions Tilikum and other orcas at SeaWorld were, and still are, subjected to.

The killing of Brancheau arose from Tilikum - snatched from his mother in Iceland when he was a calf and airlifted to Florida - being forced to live in a confined space in darkness for most of each day - only released to entertain the spectators at SeaWorld.

This callous treatment of this male whale - which has a very complex brain - resulted in him becoming increasingly frustrated and aggressive, bordering on madness, leading to the fatal attack.

Scientific researchers are not surprised that the world's most powerful and possibly cleverest predator, captured and kept for years in a tank, cut off from the influence of an extended family, could have a deadly encounter with a human.

The SeaWorld owners have tried to cover up this and other attacks by various orcas but Blackfish, deftly directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite reveals their lies.

For his sins, Tilikum has been punished by being devoid of all contact with the other whales at the marine park, being, with no hint of exaggeration, imprisoned in an even smaller space to exist - a whale jail cell.

One of the most chilling points made in Blackfish was that his owners have used his sperm to produce many offspring in SeaWorld-like marine parks throughout the world, who have more than likely inherited similar dysfunctional behaviour as displayed by the donor.

Where is the equivalent of the UK's RSPCA in the USA to address this tragic treatment of such a wonderful creature? Then again we happily take our kids to the zoo to see lions and tigers, etc incarcerated inside cages.


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