Greetings again from the darkness. As described here, Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s 2013 documentary BLACKFISH “changed everything” in regards to Orcas being held in captivity. But then Bill Neal’s documentary proceeds to lay out all of the problems that still exist and some new challenges that are occurring in Russia and China. So maybe everything hasn’t changed.
We are told that in North America, there are 22 killer whales in captivity, 20 of which are at Sea World parks. These “killer whales” are really Orcas, the majestic black and white creatures that are featured in Sea World shows and promotional paraphernalia. In the wild, they hunt and feed on Blue whales, the largest animals on Earth. In captivity, they are fed flash-frozen fish from a bucket, and forced to swim in pools too shallow to protect their skin from the sun … and worse, separated from their family and community.
The film provides a timeline and history of Orcas in captivity. 1965 was the year that Ted Griffin’s Seattle aquarium put Namu on public display. After that, Shamu became the stage name for the main attraction at all Sea World parks. Of course, the film touches on Tillikum, the main focus of BLACKFISH and the Orca involved with the publicized death of a trainer. Tillikum was also the sire to many offspring used in the Sea World community.
Filmmaker Neal includes interviews with authors, scientists, former trainers, and researchers. Author David Kirby (“Death at Sea World”) and Biologist Dr. Naomi Rose are two featured players who bring much insight to the topic. The “wildlife trade” now involves Russia capturing Orcas in the wild and then selling to China for millions of dollars. China is building marine parks modeled on what the United States had in the 1960’s, and the poor facilities are a major concern for those involved with protecting the species.
For many years, science and education were the defense offered for keeping these animals in captivity. It’s now very obvious that entertainment … or more precisely, profit, is the driving force. The film leaves us with the updated statistics. Worldwide there are now 60 Orcas being held in captivity in 15 parks throughout 8 countries. The heartfelt plea from those involved with the Whale Sanctuary Project is “Don’t buy a ticket”. If only everything had really changed.