On Christmas Day night, I watched a documentary called Blackfish on Netflix. A documentary about how cruel and inhumane places like Sea World really are. I then spent the next week going on about it to anyone who would listen. This week this documentary was snubbed at the Oscars. There were probably many reasons for this, but I personally feel this documentary deserves something. It deserves some sort of reaction. Not just everyday people like me and you saying we won’t go to Sea World and whales deserve to be free. It deserves more. Much more.
For those that don’t know about the documentary. I’ll tell you a little bit about it. Blackfish is a documentary about Orcas. Everyone that has seen Free Willy knows that these whales are huge beautiful, powerful creatures that don’t thrive in captivity. But we also know that they can be trained to provide entertainment. The Orca that Blackfish focuses on is Tilikum. This killer whale has been involved in the death of at least three people, including his trainer, Dawn Brancheau. But we’ll get to that later.
Here’s a little fact file about Tilikum:
He is the biggest Orca in captivity, measuring 6.9 m long and weighing 12,000 pounds (5,400 kg). His pectoral fins are 2.1 m long, and his flukes curl under. His tall dorsal fin is collapsed completely to his left side. Tilikum’s vocals are higher than other male orcas his size.
The programme documented how Tilikum came to be living in captivity at Sea World. He was first captured in the early 1980’s off the coast of Iceland. From there he was taken to the Sea Land of the Pacific, where he was harassed by female killer whales. Tilikum stayed here with two female whales until 1991, when a part time trainer fell in to the pool and the three killer whales ultimately killed her. In this documentary it is suggested that Sea World did not know that Tilikum had been involved. Or at least the previous trainers said they did not know which of the whales instigated the attack.
In the documentary it is made clear that killer whales that have severe aggression issues and have killed should not breed. Sea World ignored this and Tilikum has had 22 offspring, with 11 still alive. This means that any of his offspring and then their future offspring is at risk of having this aggressive gene. This means that the majority of whales that are in captivity could one day turn violent.
It took 8 years for Tilikum to kill again. On July 6, 1999, a 27-year-old man named Daniel P. Dukes was found dead and nude, draped over Tilikum’s back.] Dukes had visited Sea World the previous day, stayed after the park closed, and evaded security to enter the orca tank. An autopsy of the body found multiple wounds, contusions, and abrasions, and concluded he may have died from hypothermia and drowning.
The story that really got me was Tilikum’s third kill; his trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Sea World has claimed that because the trainer had her hair in a ponytail, which Tilikum was able to grab with his teeth, it was her fault that this death occurred. This is the story that led the director of Blackfish to develop this documentary. This story is ludicrous. Sea World was saying it was her fault, even though this is not the first time Tilikum has been violent. Fortunately witnesses put this right and stated that she was actually dragged in by her arm.
After this unfortunate event, Tilikum was placed in a smaller pool, by himself. He is not allowed to have any human contact whatsoever, and that is still in effect. For a time he wasn’t even performing. Which begs the question, if he can’t perform, if he can’t have trainers in close contact with him, then why are Sea World holding on to him? Surely the best thing that could be done now is to free Tilikum.
What I took from this documentary was this;
Sea World seems to have an excuse for everything and, if they can, they will place the blame elsewhere.
Sea World use Tilikum as a sperm bank. This is clearly obvious by the amount of offspring he has and, the fact that they have used his sperm for artificial insemination.
Sea World trainers are taught to tell the public lies. They are taught to make Sea World look good at any cost.
Sea World claims that the lifespan of a captive Orca is about 35 years, which is about the same as in the wild. This is a lie. Other researchers have claimed that Orcas can live to be up to 100 and have a similar lifespan of that as a human.
Sea World also claim that the tall dorsal fin collapses under on about 25% of whales, regardless of whether they are in captivity or in the wild. This is also a lie. Only 1% of whales have this and it is very rare that Orcas outside of captivity suffer from this.
Tilikum is performing again and has been seen to be sharing his pool with his daughter and grandson on occasion. But this doesn’t change anything. Tilikum has been held in captivity for 30 years, hasn’t he paid his price? Surely Sea World has made enough money out of him now; that the least they could do is set him free. He’s earned his freedom. And if they don’t, who’s to say he won’t attack again?
Like I said this documentary deserves so much more recognition. As does Tilikum. What I learnt from this programme is that an animal in captivity is never really truly happy. We wouldn’t like being held in captivity, so why do we do it to these smart beautiful creatures?
“In 50 years’ time, places like Sea World will be seen as barbaric and we’ll wonder why we ever did those things.”