Document This- Blackfish: Why I'll Never go to Sea World Again

I usually try to save up a few documentaries to write on at once, but I just watched Blackfish the other night and was seriously affected by the film (streaming on Netflix now!). I know most people have seen it, since it aired on CNN awhile ago, but for those who have not a quick rundown. Basically, it tracks the issues Sea World has had with their orcas since they began their program of capturing them from the wild in the seventies. They interview four ex-trainers that discuss the positives and negatives, ranging from the almost ease of becoming a trainer (you don't need any sort of marine biology or veterinarian background) to the living conditions of the whales to the loving bonds they developed with the animals they worked with. The documentary also follows the OSHA case against Sea World that claimed the lives of trainers are endangered when working with these whales.

Personally, I've had issues with all places that keep wild animals in captivity for some time- circuses, zoos, aquariums, and marine parks. I support reserves or places that focus on rehabilitation or protection, as opposed to parks that are relying on animals to jump around to generate income. These large animals needs more space and need to interact with more of their kind. Biologically, they need to be kept in habitats that compare with their environments- polar bears in San Diego? Come on!

Anyway, Blackfish served to reinforce my feelings of hesitancy and even disgust. First of all, these huge orcas are kept in the small tanks, granted anything is tiny when you compare it to the ocean. Tilikum, the largest and oldest whale in captivity, who has also been associated with more than one death, resides in a lonely pool all day, only let out occasionally for the occasional show finales. Secondly, whales are incredibly smart and they are being reduced to jumping, waving, and diving for fish. Sure, I do this with my dogs too- the  difference? Whales are exceptionally intelligent. And they do this for the profit of Sea World.

But the real issue at hand is the safety of the orca trainers. I knew that there had been deaths and injuries in the industry before, but I really had no idea that the number was dozens and dozens. Interestingly, there are very few reported in the wild, and no deaths. Of course interactions are much rarer, but if you look at shark attack numbers you can see that aggression is the real issue. Orcas are not naturally aggressive towards humans. Recently, and a large focus of the documentary was the death of Dawn Brancheau's, an experienced trainer who was killed by Tilikum. Many of the incidents seem to be a result of whale frustration- they think they should have deserved a treat but didn't get one, are tired of doing the same trick, think they're playing, etc... But who can really know why they do what they do- they're as complex as you and I.  Most memorable for me was the clip of Kenneth Peters, who was dragged down to the bottom of the tank several times by the foot- he miraculously remained calm, stroking the whale each time they surfaced, only to be taken down again. After nine minutes Peters was able to get his foot loose and frantically swim past a net other trainers had put in place for him. Incidents like this are not isolated. I've included the video below, but be warned- it's scary as hell. But also incredible enlightening. 

This is of course a documentary with not only a message, but an agenda- it is primarily one sided. Sea World has since issued an open letter after facing a PR nightmare, including falling stock prices and attendance. I sincerely think that there are many, many people at Sea World that care a great deal about the animals, preservation, and protection. But bottom line- it's a for-profit company that keeps highly intelligent animals in small tanks and makes them perform tricks so that they can make money. I'm not comfortable with that.

But what about your kids? Don't you want them to see these amazing animals in person? 

I do, yes, but I also believe that sometimes you have to do what's right and not what's cool. Not contributing to corporations who house wild animals is what's right for me. I'll show my kids Planet Earth and explain to them the difference between animals in the wild and captivity. And when they're much older (and can pay their own way and drive themselves) they can make the decision for themselves. I just won't support something I don't believe in.

Like anything controversial, this is something that you have to decide for yourself. Living in Southern California where there are a plethora of zoos and the now infamous Sea World this is definitely something relevant. I strongly urge people to watch the documentary before visiting a wild animal park. It's not a feel-good movie, but it's not gory either. Do some research, talk to your family, and decide if the pros outweigh the cons for you.


  1. When I was about four, I visited Sea World. It was right when the movie, Free Willy, was released. At the time, I thought it was the bee's knees. I had no concept that the Orcas were in distress being in captivity. I recently noticed that this documentary popped up on Netflix, but I haven't watched it yet. I'm kind of nervous about watching it because I think it will upset me. After reading your review though, I think I'll have to pluck of the courage to watch it.

    - Jackie

  2. I've been hearing a lot of buzz about this documentary on my friends list on Facebook. I have never been to Sea World, but, like you, I generally disagree with animals being held in captivity for the sake of profit. I don't have any plans to go to Sea World, and i'm sure this movie would just lock that decision in place!

  3. I've heard good things about this doco, I'm not sure that it's made it to Australia yet, but I'm definitely keen to see it.