Thursday, March 6, 2014

Free Tilly - Blackfish

Four out of Five Stars

Darryl Musick was kind enough once again to give us another review.  This time, he reviews Blackfish, the eye opening, critically acclaimed documentary about the dangers of keeping orca whales in captivity in places such as Sea World.  

For those of you who may ask why I didn't write the following review, Darryl decided to watch it last Sunday night, when something called the Academy Awards took place. So without further ado here's Darryl's reaction to Blackfish:

I remember sometime when I was a kid seeing a kind of sad looking aquarium at one of our local beaches. There was a fairly dirty seal pool out front where you could buy a bag of sardines to feed them for a quarter.

A few years later, my then future wife and I had a date at Marineland of the Pacific (now Terranea in Palos Verdes, California) and noticed that the large killer whale there had a floppy dorsal fin. We were told it’s normal.

These memories are stirred watching Gabriela Copperthwaite’s sometimes brutal documentary, Blackfish, now showing on CNN and streaming on Netflix.

We start off with watching fishermen capture orcas…killer whales…off of the coast of Washington. A few too many are killed in the process so the practice is banned. The fishermen move over to the more accommodating coasts of Iceland.

Only the small calves are saved in the capture, because they’re lighter than the adults which makes them cheaper to ship.

We’re introduced to a youngster male orca named Tilikum who is put into an aquatic park that is essentially a floating doughboy pool on a dock in British Columbia. At night, he is stored in a small cage with two female orcas who attack him constantly.

The filmmakers make the case…with former trainers and investigators…that this kind of treatment induces psychosis in the animals.

At some point, Tilikum snaps and drags a trainer to their death in the bottom of the pool. The park soon closes but the owner sells the whales, which are worth millions, to other sealife parks. Tilikum goes on to become Shamu at Sea World.

This won’t be the last time Tilikum is involved with the death of a trainer.

The movie goes on to document the treatment of these creatures at the hands of Sea World and other marine facilities. It’s not a pretty picture as very questionable training practices are highlighted.  Trainers who had almost no proper training before jumping into the pools are interviewed. PR claims of great treatment of the animals are also debunked by former employees.

While very little is presented from the other point of view (an end credit says Sea World was invited to do interviews but declined) the credibility of trainers, OSHA investigators, and Sea World employees presented on screen is hard to argue with.

It’s hard to see a healthy animal in it’s prime be captured for our amusement and being put on display but I also acknowledge that a lot of our zoos and marine facilities do great work in healing sick and injured animals. They also contribute a lot to our knowledge of other species and do great work saving endangered ones…for instance, the Los Angeles and San Diego Zoos have done outstanding work bringing the California Condor back from imminent extinction.

Our old Marineland park bequeathed the use of a marine life facility in San Pedro used to nurse injured sea lions and other marine creatures back to health for release in the wild.

It is a film with a harrowing and somewhat justified point of view. It's also hard to take your eyes off of the's a brilliantly told story. I would like to see responses to it from the other side (notably Sea World), but it would be hard to accept those rebuttals after seeing this on screen.

Directed by Gabriela Copperthwaite
83 minutes running time.

Copyright 2014 – Darryl Musick
All Rights Reserved

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