“Blackfish” highlights animal captivity issues with story of killer whale

by Sebastian Jannelli

July 26, 2013

Sad circus clown or cold-blooded killer?

“Blackfish” unravels the complexities of our relationship with captivekillerwhales and exposes some disturbing truths about their treatment and training.


This dark documentary tells the story of Tilikum, the whale responsible for killing three people, including SeaWorld trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010.

Torn from his mother at age two and confined to a tiny tank where he wasbrutalized by two olderwhales, Tilikum’s backstory of abuse is told by a host of trainers, scientists, and witnesses.

With shocking video and cellphone footage, director Gabriela Cowperthwaite chronicles Tilikum’s tortured existence at SeaWorld up to the fateful day he took his trainer’s life. Terrifying and suspenseful, “Blackfish” has all the makings of a classic horror movie with Tilikum as the tormented-youth-turned-serial-killer.

The tragedy of the trainer’s death and Tilikum’s continued confinement isalmost overwhelming at points and reminds us that these majestic mammals were not made for our entertainment.


Here at Greenpeace, we have a special connection to killer whales. Youcould say it was a killer whale that launched our worldwide movement to save the whales in 1975.

Her name was Skana and she was the first captive killer whale at the Vancouver Aquarium. When the scientist working with Skana, Dr. Paul Spong, stated publicly that the whale wanted to be free, he was fired.

Dr. Spong went on to meet Greenpeace founder Bob Hunter and told himabout Skana’s plight and the plight of other great whales around the world. Greenpeace’s hugely successful anti-whalingcampaign followed, which eventually led to an international ban on commercial whaling.

What Dr. Spong and Greenpeace knew about whales then still stands true today: It is wrong to hunt these incredibly intelligent, emotional, and complex creatures and it is wrong to keep them in captivity.

Want to know more about whales on the big screen? Find out how a story about three grey whales turned into the major motion picture “Big Miracle.”

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