Blackfish (2013) is a widely available documentary that brings light to the unethical treatment of orcas in marine parks, in particular SeaWorld. As we learnt in our lecture, the screening of Blackfish was accompanied by a successful social media campaign, television screenings and online streaming. Viewers were encouraged to tweet about the documentary and vocally support the orcas and condemn SeaWorld. SeaWorld itself was unsuccessful at improving their image, losing sponsorship and an attempt to refute claims made in Blackfish resulting in more attention being drawn to the documentary.
While Blackfish is unarguably focused heavily on condemning SeaWorld and the practice of keeping orcas captive rather than presenting facts in a more unbiased manner, it makes no secret of its aims. The producers are very affective at anthropomorphising the orcas, making them relatable, social and family oriented beings.
I personally found watching Blackfish to be an experience that was both interesting and heartbreaking. I ordinarily do not think much about animal rights and so credit the filmmakers in building up such a reaction for myself. I think one of the reasons I was so emotionally affected by the documentary was the use of the trainers, hunters and scientists reflecting on their experiences, appearing visibly upset by tragic events relating to the orcas and showing such love and care for their welfare. In particular, I found that the ignorance of the trainers, who often repeated sentiments of not knowing or understanding what they were doing and the impact of keeping the animals captive. Seeing the pain of others and being shown how the orcas interact in the wild as family units entirely motivated by social needs.
A review of Blackfish and The Cove (2009), a documentary about the annual slaughter of dolphins in Japan, by Amber E. George, discusses many of these features. I read the article after writing my initial thoughts and was interested to find that similar ideas of the empathetic nature of the trainers and the emphasis on the family bonds and sociality of the orcas where mentioned by George. George also noted that although films such as these show traumatic images such as bleeding and wounded orcas and orcas attacking humans they also include beautiful moments, what she refers to as “serenity.” I agree with this and think that the moments of whales and trainers interacting peacefully make the traumatic scenes all the more powerful.
While showing a one sided view of the situation rather than the basic facts, Blackfish is very successful in drawing in an audience and encouraging them to actively feel outrage on behalf of the orcas. I will finish with a quote from George which sums up my feelings about Blackfish and the implications the film possesses:
“Through these astonishing films, we see glimpses into the dark side of humanity and learn important lessons about greed, politics and the nature of animal ethics.”