DVD Review: “Blackfish” Is Powerful And Gripping


Review by James McDonald

A documentary following the controversial captivity of killer whales, and its dangers for both humans and whales.

When “Jaws” was released back in 1975, it was a huge box-office hit that drew record attendances to the cinema but at the same time, scared people out of the ocean. I think there are still some people in the world today who won’t go near the water because of that film. Two years later, “Orca: The Killer Whale” came out and while certainly not the huge hit that its predecessor was, it most certainly painted killer whales as mindless killing machines. Alas, with no access to the internet back then to research the actual truth for ourselves, we believed them. Thank God we’ve all changed since then. Or have we?

“Blackfish” tells the story of Tilikum, a notoriously aggressive orca that killed three people while in captivity. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite uses shocking footage and emotional interviews to present a convincing case against keeping these wild animals for human entertainment. Many of us have been to SEA-WORLD or similar parks of such ilk and there are some out there who have probably, unfortunately, witnessed some sort of attack from the killer whale against its handler. Some of these attacks have been considered minor, from lacerations and broken bones to the unfortunate mutilation and, in some cases, death, of a trainer.

“Blackfish” walks a very fine line between shocking and gruesome. We actually see footage of some exiguous encounters but some of the more gruesome “accidents”, are recounted by eye-witnesses and thankfully, they never veer into explicit narration. As a child, I would occasionally watch documentaries on TV. Some of them were about movies and the magic that went into making them, some were about space exploration and what the scientists, at the time, said was in our future but some of them, the ones I hated to watch but couldn’t look away from, were the ones about whales and the men who brutally killed them, whether for food or for their fins, a delicacy in countries like Taiwan and China.


I remember thinking to myself, if I could be anywhere at that moment in time, it would on the TV where I could physically punish the men hurting these beautiful creatures and make sure they were released back into the wild. “Blackfish” made me feel like that all over again. In this film, we’re shown how the whales are captured and brought back to captivity and how many of the mothers and their offspring are separated and sent to different parks. We actually see one mother crying for her lost baby and it brought me to tears. In addition, the film looks at some of the attacks and what co-workers believed caused them, namely, the whales suffering from frustration from being held in captivity for so long and trainers keeping food from them for missing a beat in their training to please the audience.

Never once though, does anybody hold the whale responsible. As one of the former trainers puts it, imagine being plucked from your family and spending the rest of your life in a concrete enclosure, trying to make those who captured you happy. We also witness the psychological damage that confinement has on the whales and the despicable conditions they live in. But what’s even more shocking than any footage on display here, is how they expose SEA-WORLD as a money-hungry organization who lie and cover up truths, including those about the deaths of their trainers. They lie to their own people and mislead the public, all in the name of a quick buck.

One scientist exclaims that there has never been a death of a human being from a killer whale in the wild. Wow! Is the answer really that simple? Instead of taking these amazing mammals from their own environments and families, that we simply just leave them there to flourish and live the rest of their lives undisturbed? As an educated human being, that would seem like the most obvious answer. I bet SEA-WORLD would disagree. Very highly recommended.

In stores November 12th


James McDonald
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