Today, we may be seeing the effects of a single incident that occurred in February, 2010 at Sea World change how we view animal captivity when it comes to killer whales and dolphins as well. The incident itself got a considerable amount of attention when it happened, but it was the documentary “Blackfish” that recounted the story and the surrounding environment which has managed to generate a growing backlash from the public about how we treat marine life in an atmosphere such as Sea World.
Blackfish is a documentary that recounts the killing of Dawn Brancheau, a highly experienced trainer by Tilikum, a killer whale. When it happened, the story managed to grab the headlines and news stations around the world, but only for a short period of time as it faded from memory. However, Gabriela Cowperthwaite set out to make a documentary of the incident and create a compelling film to explain the background of the incident and the overall culture that allowed such an event to happen.
The film itself tells the background of Tilikum and his relationship with his trainer Dawn Brancheau while also showing behind the scenes footage of the famous “Shamu” shows which offer valuable insight into how the entertainment at Sea World is created and what it means for the whales and trainers who are involved.
The result is a rather complicated interweaving of stories that culminate on that fateful day in February, 2010 when Tilikum turned on Dawn Brancheau and killed her. In fact, it was the third person that Tilikum had killed in his lifetime ever since he was taken from the wild in 1983 near Iceland and shipped from one amusement park to another until reaching Sea World in 1992.
The film itself has been a hit as far as documentaries are concerned with millions of people seeing it in theaters as well as it being streamed by Netflix and iTunes. It has brought in an even larger audience to see this rather complicated story which manages to succeed in revealing a great number of unsavory details about Sea World. It has led to the company blasting the film as being dishonest and misleading.
The “Blackfish Effect” has been quite remarkable considering just how many people have seen or even heard about the film. While Blackfish has not really broken out in terms of being a major film, it has managed to gain an audience which has had a substantial effect on Sea World’s profits.
It shows the physical and emotional stresses that Tilikum has undergone during his long life in captivity from being separated from his mother to the aggression that killer whales and their trainers undergo. All in the name of entertainment, it has had a chilling effect on Sea World and it is changing the way that many people view just what happens between killer whales and trainers.
Indeed, in the wild there has never been a reported fatality from attack by a killer whale at least in modern times. The relationship between humans and killer whales in the wild is far different than when the whales are in captivity. In the case of Tilikum, the separation from his mother at such an early age and his previous violent tendencies which resulted in the death of his first trainer in 1991 and a trespasser in 1999 whose lifeless body was being carried on Tilikum’s back has led to a re-evaluation by the public about the entire amusement industry when it comes to the captivity of killer whales.
While Sea World has managed to pull in a slightly higher profit in 2014 compared to the previous year, the dampening effect has lowered both profit expectation and its own stocks as well. This has been a result of the Blackfish effect that has managed to form a grassroots effort against Sea World and the entire amusement industry when it comes to the captivity of killer whales.
However, the question remains of whether Blackfish will have a long-lasting impact after its current time in the limelight has faded. The answer may be a considerable impact given the reaction not only by those who have seen the film, especially celebrities who have already voiced how their views has changed, but by many high school students around the country as well who are creating greater awareness by creating videos and the like to tell others about the treatment of captive killer whales.
The main effect seems to be centered on social media where the band “Barenaked Ladies” actually cancelled a planned event at SeaWorld in early 2014 after 10,000 people signed a petition asking them to reconsider, all from the effects that the film Blackfish has had on their lives. Since that time, a number of acts have cancelled gigs at SeaWorld after being hit with many petitions to do so.
However, the effect is going beyond musical acts to corporate sponsorships where longtime supporter Southwest Airlines is feeling the pressure of petitions signed against their partnership with SeaWorld. While they still have a relationship with that company, Southwest has certainly felt the impact about how so many feel given the events depicted in the film.
While there is no telling about the future impact of the film over the next few years, what can be said is that a significant section of the population and particularly young people have changed their view about the captivity of killer whales and that may have an impact which lasts for a very long time.