Blackfish is one of the most upsetting and frustrating documentaries you’ll likely ever see. Seriously though, this movie was an eye opening look into the capture and captivity of killer whales, and how consequences show it to be against their very nature. It’s a real tearjerker, and frustrating in the sense that you’ll want to wring the necks of the assholes involved once it’s over. If you still feel the same way about organizations like Seaworld or other marine theme parks after watching it, I’m not too sure you’re a human being.
Blackfish starts with the introduction of it’s main character, Tilikum, a killer whale involved in the deaths of three people over the span of it’s ‘career’ as a performer. Tilikum, or Tilly, as he is called, was taken off the coast of Iceland in 1983 and put to work at ‘Sealand of the Pacific’ in Canada. There, the other whales in captivity began to abuse him, as they were all held in one (very small for their size) tank, which was kept in almost pitch black all night. This is where he kills his first victim, after essentially breaking down during a show and attacking his trainer. From there, Sealand essentially lied about the circumstances of the trainers death to ‘Seaworld’, and he was sold off and sent down south to Seaworld Orlando.
Seven years later, Tilly is thought to have killed again, and the circumstances this time were even more bizarre. A man broke into the killer whales habitat after hiding overnight, and was found naked and dead the next morning. The director argues that although he was believed to have drowned, all the evidence points to Tilly killing the man, as he was covered in scratches, teeth marks, and abrasions. The last death, and probably most covered in media, was of Dawn Brancheau in 2010, during a private show. Seaworld argues that Dawn shouldn’t have had a ponytail at the time, and Tilly grabbed her and pulled her into the water. However, watching the video footage (which is damn difficult to do) clearly shows the whale grab her arm, and yank her into the water. The movie ends with footage of Tilly at Seaworld TODAY, as he’s still part of their Shamu act after everything that happened.
What Blackfish does well is making you relate to the killer whales. They have families and homes just like us, and in captivity is not where those things should be. Numerous trainers tell stories of working with Tilly, and the main consensus is that over time, he got more and more angry and depressed. Of all the connections to make during Blackfish, I kept thinking of Taxi Driver. There are some crazy parallels between Tilly and Travis Bickle, both being held in captivity (either in a tank or in their mind) which ultimately leads to violence for both of them.
I understand very well that this is a biased interpretation of the truth, but honestly, it’s much easier to side with a documentary than a huge organization like Seaworld/Busch Gardens. Just the fact that they actively breed their whales in captivity, then take their babies away from them to other Seaworld locations is heartbreaking. That’s another theory the movies puts forward for why Tilly acts out the way he does. Seaworld has taken almost a dozen of his children away from him and his mating partners. It’s no wonder he’s so pissed off and lashes out at the people who have the most direct contact with him. Killer whales are creatures that are inherently meant to be free, and while many don’t become violent in captivity, it certainly makes sense that some would grow to be pretty pissed off creatures.