Blackfish: Documentary or Propaganda?

Official Poster from Sundance Film Festival

There are many examples of crafted activism in psuedo-documentaries. The iconic Super Size Me is a premiere example of this covered in skeptoid episode 88. Recently I came across a “documentary” called Blackfish. It is about the famous killer whale named Tilikum. Tilikum’s fame stems from a deadly attack on a trainer at Orlando SeaWorld February 24th 2010. This Orca has been implicated in two other deadly incidents as well, but is best known for the SeaWorld death. I watched this film about the history of attacks by this animal as well as the treatment of all captive orca. It provoked a strong emotional response, making it a good film, but not necessarily a good presentation of the facts. I was bothered by the title “Blackfish” — deceptive and scientifically wrong. Irrelevant for a work of fiction, but a not so subtle alliteration in a documentary. Blackfish is a colloquial name for Orcinus orca. Like the more commonly used term Killer Whale, it is incorrect. Orcas are neither fish nor are they all black. Actually killer whale is equally incorrect; they are not whales, killer or otherwise. Orcas are in fact the largest member of the dolphin family. After watching the movie I had some lasting questions beyond the title and decided to take a close look at the film and see how much was fluff and how much was fact. 

Movie Summary:

The documentary focuses on the captivity of Tilikum, a killer whale involved in the deaths of three individuals, and the consequences of keeping killer whales in captivity. The coverage of Tilikum includes his capture in 1983 off the coast of Iceland, purported harassment by fellow captive whales at Sealand of the Pacific, incidents that Cowperthwaite argues contributed to the whale’s aggression and includes testimonial from Lori Marino, Director of Science with Nonhuman Rights Project. Cowperthwaite also focuses on SeaWorld‘s claims that lifespans of whales in captivity are comparable to those in the wild, typically 30 years for males and 50 years for females,[3] a claim the film argues is false. Interview subjects also include former SeaWorld trainers, such as John Hargrove.

The film it is a very compelling and emotional narrative. It gives you the undeniable impression of a animal that has a pattern of unpredictable aggression. An animal that has caused multiple deaths. The film proposes that the animal was obviously dangerous and SeaWorld has mostly ignored or misunderstood the danger. In addition, SeaWorld failed to have properly warned/prepared animal trainers for this animal. They draw a marginal conclusion that the animal is probably mentally ill in some manner, and that it poses a insurmountable danger that Sea World ignores.

The film is compelling and disturbing. Skeptically watching the film, I found some of the conclusions weak, especially about the behavior of the animal. The movie completely convinced me that Sea World had poorly trained staff that was ignorant of the danger. A disturbing truth the film portrayed was the trainer’s paucity of education. There was a consistent impression of personnel that had absolutely no formal education in marine biology or any formal marine mammal behavioral education. They appeared to be “on the job” trained. Which I found surprising. I had always assumed that the people in the wet suit were marine biologists. In retrospect, slightly naive.

I had other impressions. There was an obvious bias from the interviewed staff and “biologists”. I found their negative testimony about SeaWorld in particular to be less than credulous. I had a strong emotional response to the scenes involving the capture and segregation of the animals and to the “eyewitness” testimony from the Sealand of the Pacific incident.

Orca in the wild

Clearly, others have had a similar reaction. The movie has become a rallying cry for the ethical treatment of these marine mammals and their exploitation by SeaWorld. It is the basis of a boycott/shutdown movement surrounding the SeaWorld amusement parks. Notably, a California politician has introduced a bill that will effectively shut down SeaWorld San Diego.

SeaWorld San Diego would have to end its killer whale shows and remove 10 orcas from their tanks under a bill inspired by a documentary blasting the marine park’s animal welfare practices. The California Assembly is holding its first hearing on AB2140 Tuesday morning. The bill’s backers say killer whales are too large and intelligent for captivity, while SeaWorld says the animals are well treated and help conservation through research. The 2013 film “Blackfish” blames attacks and deaths of SeaWorld trainers on the mistreatment of the animals, increasing their aggression. SeaWorld calls the film anti-captivity propaganda. The bill by Democratic Assemblyman Richard Bloom also bans the import and export of orcas. Under his measure, SeaWorld could keep the animals it has in a larger sea pen until they die.

Is Blackfish an anti-SeaWorld propaganda film or a compelling view of the exploitation of marine mammals? To be fair, my feelings about the orcas in captivity are conflicted, and I may have some bias. In my opinion it is illogical to think that an intelligent, social, apex marine mammal would enjoy living out their life in what amounts to a small pool. I also know that SeaWorld (and others) have profited from forcing these animals to perform tricks for people’s amusement. Yet I have been in those audiences on occasion, and I have been amazed and thrilled by these animals. My feelings about captive orcas are, as I said, conflicted.

So what about the movie? What does it really add to the debate about these animals? As with many of these social documentaries, there are too many factual inconsistencies to feel that this movie is a fair evaluation of the animal, the trainers, or the park.

There is evidence of fabrication of facts, or at least of editing to produce a consistently biased narrative. Sea World raises their following objections.

  1. The film depicts a killer whale collection in Washington State that occurred 40 years ago.  It leaves viewers with three false impressions:  (1) that SeaWorld continues to collect whales from the wild to this day; (2) that Tilikum himself was collected by SeaWorld; and (3) that the collections done four decades ago were illegal.  None of this is true.  SeaWorld does not collect killer whales in the wild, and has not done so in over 35 years. Tilikum was not collected by SeaWorld.   And the collections four decades ago were conducted in compliance with federal laws, pursuant to federally-issued permits at that time.
  2. The film highlights two separations.  In one instance, involving a whale named Takara, the film leaves you with the impression she was a calf when separated.  In fact, Takara was 12 years old when she was moved.   In the second, involving a whale named Kalina, the film misleadingly shows footage of a calf that is only days old.  Kalina was moved when she was 4 ½ years old because she was disruptive to her mother and other whales.
  3. The Film includes a SeaWorld video of a female trainer riding a killer whale, while one of the cast members, Samantha Berg, talks about her “experience” at Shamu Stadium.  This segment misleadingly implies that Ms. Berg had relevant experience when, in fact, the video used in the film was shot 10 years after Ms. Berg had left SeaWorld.  The trainer depicted in the video is not Ms. Berg but rather is a current SeaWorld employee.   Of just the 3 years Ms. Berg spent working at SeaWorld, she spent only one year working with killer whales and she never conducted direct training with Tilikum.
  4. The film misleadingly cobbles together separate pieces of innocuous training and performance footage, synced with the actual 911 calls, to mislead the audience into believing it is viewing the actual footage of Ms. Brancheau swimming with Tilikum prior to the fatal incident.  In fact, the opening sequence does not depict either Ms. Brancheau or Tilikum, or an attack of any kind.  From the date Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld, no one was allowed to swim in the water with Tilikum, and Ms. Brancheau never did so.
  5. The film includes a recording of an EMT technician, subsequently proved to be mistaken, suggesting that Tilikum swallowed Ms. Brancheau’s arm during the incident. This is false.
  6. The Sealand of the Pacific incident was mischaracterized and several key facts were left out. Keltie Byrne, a 20-year-old marine biology student and competitive swimmer, slipped into the pool containing Tilikum, Haidi II and Nootka IV while working as a part-time Sealand trainer. The three orcas submerged her, dragging her around the pool and preventing her from surfacing. At one point she reached the side and tried to climb out but, as horrified visitors watched from the sidelines, the orcas pulled her screaming back into the pool. Other trainers responded to her screams, throwing her a life-ring, but the orcas kept her away from it. She surfaced three times screaming before drowning, and it was several hours before her body could be recovered from the pool. Both females were pregnant at the time, which was not known to the trainers. Which may have made them aggressive or more dangerous.
  7. SeaWorld does not starve their animals to train them. They are fed the same amount every day performing or not and have a very precise diet. It is true that other parks have used starvation method.

Beyond twisting the facts, I have a problem with the major unstated premise of the film. Namely, that getting in water with any marine mammal can be completely safe. Even well fed apex predators are unpredictable. Trainers know when you get in the water with a 22 ton marine mammal you are at their mercy. The filmmakers make a strong case that lethal orca attacks only occur in captive animals. That is technically true. I would not agree that this is somehow a result of mental disease due to captivity. In almost every case the extremely powerful animal seems to be playing with the people. I don’t mean in a kind, fun way. I mean wild orca often play with their pray; flinging them around, dragging them under the water. The wild orca eventually eat the prey or share it with other orca. In all of the human cases, there was deadly injury and drowning, but no eating. This behavior  could be characterized as normal for a wild orca, or as boredom. Hardly unusual behavior for this animal.

There is good scientific evidence showing that orca steer clear of humans for the most part. Obviously daily human exposure in a show is far more often than any wild animal will ever experience. Simple statistics dictate that if you swam daily with wild orcas for years it is likely at some point you would get hurt, possibly killed.

Orcas do not perceive us as prey. We know from wild observation that orca are very selective eaters. Food is based upon the pod society. In the wild, animals seem to have a fairly strict culture involving behavior and food preferences. This behavior is so strong that occasionally it is negative for the animals. While there are about 50,000 orcas worldwide, the Salish Sea’s residents are down to fewer than 90 animals—and social mores appear to prevent them from mating outside their group, creating an inbred population. When some resident orcas’ preferred food, chinook, is scarce, the orcas’ upbringing are reluctant to eat sockeye and pink salmon, which are abundant. It is true that far as we know in the wild, there have been no fatal attacks on humans, probably because humans are not around a lot and we are not on the menu for a predator that sticks to a strict diet.

Humans tend to think of this animal leaving us alone as some type of mammalian kinship. That is just plain false. Orca systematically hunt and kill many intelligent mammals similar to them: whales, dolphins, and sea lions to name a few.

Despite movie statements to the contrary, there is evidence for wild orca on human aggression:

  • In the 1910s, the Terra Nova Expedition recorded that killer whales had attempted to tip ice floes on which an expedition photographer and a sled dog team were standing.[7] In this case the whales may have mistaken the dogs’ barking for seal calls and grown curious.[7]
  • On June 15, 1972, the hull of the 43-foot-long (13 m) wooden schooner Lucette (Lucy) was stove in by a pod of killer whales and sank approximately 200 miles west of the Galapagos Islands. The group of six people aboard escaped to an inflatable life raft and a solid-hull dinghy.[8]
  • On September 9, 1972,[9] a Californian surfer named Hans Kretschmer reported being bitten by a killer whale at Point Sur; most maintain that this remains the only fairly well-documented instance of a wild orca biting a human.[10][11] His wounds required 100 stitches.[11]
  • In August 2005, while swimming in four feet of water in Helm Bay, near Ketchikan, Alaska, a 12-year-old boy named Ellis Miller was “bumped” in the shoulder by a 25-foot transient killer whale.[10][12] The boy was not bitten or injured in any way. The bay is frequented by harbor seals, and it is possible that the whale misidentified him as prey.[12]
  • During the filming of the third episode of the BBC documentary Frozen Planet (2011), a group of orcas were filmed trying to “wave wash”[13] the film crew’s 18-foot zodiac boat as they were filming. The crew had earlier taped the group hunting seals in the same fashion. It was not mentioned if any of the crew were hurt in the encounter.[14] The crew described the orcas as being very tolerant of the film makers’ presence. Over the course of 14 days they filmed over 20 different attacks on seals, many of which the film’s series producer Vanessa Berlowitz describe as training exercises for the young calves in the group.[15][16]
  • On February 10, 2014, a free diver in Horahora Estuary near WhangareiNew Zealand was pulled down for a duration of over 40 seconds by a killer whale that grabbed the catch bag attached to his arm. The bag, which contained crayfish and sea urchins, was attached to the diver’s arm by a rope which eventually came free. He then undid his weight belt and returned to the surface with his last breath. His arm was “dead” and he could no longer swim, but his cousin was nearby and helped him float to some rocks where the feeling in his arm returned.[17][18][19]

Overall I found the film to be a concentrated effort to paint captive orca as slowly going mad. It painted the orca as a captive human with increasing anger and mental illness. Systematical editing and narration portrayed Sea World and captive orcas in the most emotion provoking and detrimental view. It evaded issues to evoke sympathy for captive orca, and anger at a corporate entertainment venue.

Captive orca represent a complicated issue. They are an intelligent social animal that probably shouldn’t be locked up in a tiny marine cell. That said, there are actual positives for the species and possibly for the current captive animals.  The current animals in captivity have either been out of the wild for their adult life or born into captivity. They cannot be released; we are incapable teaching them what they need to know to survive. Removing them from the show would make us feel better, but realistically only decrease the mental and physical stimulus they receive. No tickets, no money. How long would we feed them, give them vet care in their slightly bigger but less interesting new tank?

To the activists, I would say that a small number of captured orca are of tremendous benefit to the race as a whole. We are their only real threat in the world. Generations of kids have seen these animals, love them, have stuffed animals and dream of working with them. There is no better way to humanize these animals. Humanity equals emotional attachment, and emotional attachment means preservation. If you take these animals out of the public consciousness, how much good will is lost for all marine mammals, especially the great whales?

Bottom line: if you follow the evidence you will see a consistent pattern of bias and manipulation. It doesn’t make it a bad film, just a bad documentary.



About Stephen Propatier

Stephen Propatier is a board certified acute care nurse practitioner specializing in spine and sports medicine. He is a member of the Society for Science Based Medicine.
This entry was posted in Nature, Pseudoscience, Skeptoid Podcast. Bookmark the permalink.

124 Responses to Blackfish: Documentary or Propaganda?

  1. evilducks says:

    I don’t think I agree with a lot of the impressions you got from the film. I thought they made it very clear that it wasn’t Sea World that captured Tilikum in the first place, though I believe they implied that Sea World engaged in similar animal capture practices (it’s been a few months since I’ve seen the film, and I’m fuzzy on that particular detail). I also never got the impression that that method of collection was illegal. The point that struck home to me was just the disgusting nature of the capture in the first place. People won’t like this comparison, but the slave trade was legal in it’s day, doesn’t make it any less disgusting or unethical that it happened. A good point the movie made was that even the people that engaged in it knew how terrible what they were doing was.

    Your second point, while the movie may imply that the orca were still calves when seperated, that’s not really the issue. Just because the orca is now 12 or 4.5 doesn’t make it any less traumatic. Orcas are within a pod their entire existence, and separation from that pod is going to have lasting effects on it and those left behind. There was no reason given for the first move, and the second I don’t really think is a good reason. If the new orca is disrupting your show that’s something you are just going to have to live with if you care at all for the animals. You mentioned that the film is trying to make you view these creatures as human, and in this instant I think you’re doing just that. Where we expect our young to leave and can get over it, I don’t think that’s as true for these animals.

    The video editing is misleading with regards to the trainer incidents, I agree that’s some shady work there. Those really aren’t the moments of the film I was particularly interested in oddly enough. These are massive apex predators known for playing with their food. Like any wild animal they can decide to kill those around it if they so choose. That it happened really doesn’t surprise me. I would wager more people get attacked by large pet snakes or pet exotic cats than they do in the wild at this point as well. It’s just a numbers game really.

    My overall feeling of the film is that it’s just wrong that we imprison these highly intelligent animals. As highly intelligent animals ourselves, it would suck to be plopped into cages, forced to do tricks daily for crowds, and I bet many humans would get fed up with it after a decade or so and lash out at their captures as well. I don’t think that implies mental instability at all, I think that implies intelligence. If we are going to have them in zoos or whatever it is we call Sea World, then we should at least treat them with actual respect and reverence, instead of the sham they claim at the show while focusing primarily on profit.

    I too am conflicted over where we should push as a society on this. You are right, having the orca viewed by the public greatly increases our affection for them and our desire to help them. At the same time, these are extremely intelligent creatures, and you have to weigh the ethics of what you’re doing. I think you’re right in that we can’t let them just go into the wild as that’s most likely a slow, painful death sentence, much like dumping a domestic dog, cat, or human in a forest will probably end badly. We can, however, improve their well being now. We can require larger pools, or actual ocean tanks for them to have access to, but still allow the show. We can restrict the ability to separate families from one another in the name of better business. We can prohibit future capture of wild animals for use in these shows.

    This article actually amuses to me to some end considering a recent science or fiction item on the SGU. The Bronx briefly had an African Human on display as the “missing link” in the early 1900’s. As the evidence mounts for the actual comparable level of intelligence of orca’s in comparison to humans, I think it’s a pretty similar situation.

    • keomitchell says:

      As a former employee of Seaworld Parks and Entertainment my views expressed in this post are my own and not necessarily shared by the company.

      “My overall feeling of the film is that it’s just wrong that we imprison these highly intelligent animals. As highly intelligent animals ourselves…forced to do tricks daily for crowds, and I bet many humans would get fed up with it after a decade or so and lash out at their captures as well.”

      I think a bit of a different perspective is needed. I’ve worked as a a show technician, three consecutive seasons, and have worked with sea lions as well as orcas. I’ve watched and actively participated in close 200+ shows between sea lions and Shamu, including rehearsals.

      Just as a dog owner teaching their family pet how to sit or catch a Frisbee, trainers enforce behaviors (tricks as you call them), with positive reinforcement. Whether that be a fish or a toy, etc., all animals that perform in the show are trained in this way. Out of the 200+ shows that I’ve witnessed some of these behaviors aren’t performed by the animals and are simply ignored and not enforced by the trainer. That’s it, not even a stern talking to, because the animals may interpret that reaction as a positive. One special tidbit of information about the behaviors that wow audiences are in fact behaviors taught to the animals for veterinarian purposes (urine samples, drawing blood, etc.) You may recognize some of the behaviors that make the kiddies smile in the pre-show videos that talk about the veterinary care these animals are given. The same shows that draw the crowds are what keeps the company’s ability to take care of the captive whales and to drive consumers away from the park with boycotting could be argued as animal abuse in its own rights.

      On the note of larger pools or even a sea pen sort of set up is not practical or potentially poses a risk to Orca health. The pools are highly regulated and filtered, I’m not an expert in veterinary or even animal health, but have worked with salt water fishes at a local pet store in Hawaii. I know that not all water is equal and could potentially expose whales to pathogens that their immune systems aren’t used to. But the common concern that whales need more space to swim for exercise is a little silly if you stop and think about it.

      The whales perform as many as three to five shows while the parks are open and also different independent sessions when guests aren’t allowed in the park. Tuar, a whale that resides at the park I used to work at weighs about 6,000 pounds and does many breaches and other aerial behaviors that I’d gather uses a lot of energy. In one show a whale may perform a breach or other behaviors thirty times in a show. That is a lot of exercise not to mention stimuli for them. Again this is just based on my own thoughts and not something that I can imagine could be measured. If anyone who reads this takes away one point I would like it to be that there is more than meets the eyes. Take the time to form your own informed opinion that isn’t based off anecdotal articles. Also know that there is a strong majority of people that support Seaworld and it is unfortunate that these voices are drowned out by the louder minority.

      • Nflsodifrm1235pseudyom says:

        NOW I get it! You guys are trying to deflect the hits that Blackfish imposed on you.
        Now, I’m only 11, but I have sturdy common sense and have watched the movie Orca and Blackfish (both are very sad)

        Killer whales only get up to 10 tons.
        They stick with one mate all their life.
        They have bigger brains then us, are more intelligent than us. You can’t lock them up in a tiny tank without them getting fed up pretty quickly.
        They have a photographic memory for those who harm them. The reason the little kids want stuffed orca dolls is because they don’t realize how small their tanks are, that animals have thoughts and feelings like us, or they don’t know about Blackfish and animal cruelty. Little kids love animals! That’s why they want to be trainers until they hear about the stories of “pregnant whales who don’t know what they’re doing,” or, “accidents.” WHALES KNOW WHAT THEYRE DOING! If you had to do a lot of excessive every day, do 2-5 shows, weigh 10,000 pounds and get a couple of fish as reward, even if you get a regular diet. I think I would try to kill you after 10 years too. Have you noticed the size of the tank they’re in? The water Usually looks dirty also.
        That’s why they’ve been putting up the commercials that read, “our whales are happy and healthy, and we never take them from the wild!” Well, I paused, and I could barely see the fine print hat read, HIRED ACTOR. SOME OF THESE STATEMENTS MAY BE FALSE. Yeah, you got that right.

        • Certainly I respect your passion but photographic memory, how do you know that?

        • Nicolas B says:

          I certainly admire your passion, but I have to agree with Stephen. You make a lot of big statements that really do require quite a lot to back up.

          Try to remove your emotions from the mix, for a moment.

          “Sea World” is not one massive entity, but is a combination of a great many individual people and experiences. “You guys [are trying to deflect points made in blackfish]” is not necessarily the productive of routes, given the complexity of the situation. Keomitchell is giving an account that you may choose to believe or take into consideration, at your own discretion, but it is very important to focus on looking at the facts, rather than speculating about motives and such.

          I’m glad that you care so much about animals. Keep it up.

        • John Doe says:

          I like how you say what little kids love when you’re a little kid yourself.

        • James L. says:

          Noticed how you called Blackfish a movie. That’s all it is. It was biased, inaccurate and misleading. Killer whales do not stick with one mate all their life. It is not scientifically proven that killer whales are more intelligent than us. Most researchers disagree with that statement. It is also not scientifically proven that killer whales have a photographic memory. You present many statements as if they are facts. Try reciting actual facts.

          • William says:

            The important thing to look at is the ratio of brain size to body size. A larger brain doesn’t matter. Brain size correlates with body size, as most neurons (nerve cells) are interneurons, which just connect other nerves together, and most of the brain is dedicated to things other than conscious thought.

          • Noah Dillon says:

            Huh. Does this correlate well for, say, octopuses and crows and so on? For example, I think of crows as having a very small brain size relative to body mass, and yet they can solve complex problems and use tools.

          • Alexandria Nick says:

            Birds on the whole tend to have lower encephalization quotients that mammals, but corvids (like a crow) are pretty high for a bird. Ravens have the same EQ as a chimp. Parrots are up there too.

      • rory222 says:

        i think that even when you get all the misinterpretations out of the way it is still evident that it is not a good environment for these large animals to be locked away in a very small tank. Now im not completely sure how much food they are getting in captivity but they eat about 200-350 pounds of food a day in the wild and it will be a mix of different species. It is the same as when a dog is neglected by its owner left in a room all day not taken walks not being fed regularly not getting any attention from anyone then a child goes near it and it attacks the child. Most likely that dog will be put down. In england (which is where i am) 7227 people last year were admitted to a hospital due to a dog related injury with the majority of these coming down to a bad owner. It is things like this which give animals such as pitbulls a bad name.

      • margie neal says:

        I agree it was said to be found that it was frustration not aggression but these trainers believed what they were told by sea world just like everyone else These execs had no clue this would happen but when it did they blamed a pony tail

  2. marianwhit says:

    Stephen, thank you for the amount of time I know you spent researching this, and your honesty about your feelings.

    I grew up in Miami, and the close (safe) contact I had with the captive animals at the Seaquarium there created in me a deeply emotional connection to the aquatic world. I ended up studying biology partially due to this experience.

    Certain extreme groups in the animal rights movement have gone beyond the concern for animal welfare, and are consciously trying to end all “exploitation” of animals in a very calculated manner.

    If you think about it what the term “animal rights” implies, that would mean they would have us give up our pets (since they exist for our amusement), not use beasts of burden (nope, no more horseback riding, kids), and force us to be vegetarians (without eggs or milk, meaning meeting our evolved nutrient requirements would be very difficult).

    There is a strong argument for keeping some limited numbers of animals in less-than-wild conditions so that we may learn about them and experience them in intimate ways that would stress wild populations, given the number of people who want to see them.

    Teaching them tricks provides an important form of environmental enrichment for them. The animals are stimulated, entertaining the crowds, who pay for their food. The owners of the establishments have no interest in mistreating the animals who are their bread and butter, and no interest in having the bad press associated with injury to trainers. These are some of the most closely regulated operations in the world.

    Approaching marine mammals in the wild creates inherent personal dangers to us, exposes them to disease, and any form of harassment of them is illegal. Watching a film only gives a limited experience, and fails to generate the awe in terms of the size, power, and grace of these animals. If we expect to save these species in the wild, people need a chance to get “up close and personal” with them. To save wild populations is going to require a lot of very committed people who have had the benefit of this very personal experience.

    • Sami says:

      Thank you for providing information from an actual animal caretaker view. I have dozens of friends in animal husbandry positions (Ringling Bros., SeaWorld, Disney, multiple zoos and sanctuaries) and they all roll their eyes at Blackfish’s lack of relevant information and inclusion of irrelevant/misleading bias presented as “fact.” It’s a shame that their roles as caretakers are demonized because of activists and archaic biases.

      I’ve always wondered why so many people believe SeaWorld and circus caretakers are heartless thugs who deliberately abuse their animals, but the employees at their local vet, kennel, doggy day care, and PetsMart dog trainers aren’t.

      • JamieClubb says:

        Thank you Marian and Sami for commenting on this excellent article. Coming from a family of animal trainers it is truly refreshing to see you amongst the sceptical (or should it be big “S” Skeptical?) community. I have been dismayed by Richard Dawkins, Michael Shermer and several other respected members of the critical thinking movement’s massive blind spot to the myths of the animal rights movement. It is great see Brian Dunning flying the flag for reasoned investigation. A true sceptic in my eyes.

        • Nadia says:

          That is stupid as hell to compare dogs to killer whales. Dogs have been with humans for thousands of years…you guys all sound extremely brainwashed to think sea world and circuses are in the right

    • Jonathan says:

      vegetarians can have eggs and milk and vegetarianism is a much more efficient food source as there are less steps in the food chain to waste energy.

      • Sal says:

        While that may be true, it is not energy that vegetarians are missing out on. Many vegetarians do not meet the daily protein requirements. It is possibly if they vary the beans and nuts they eat, but it is still not an many proteins as meat.

        • Noah Dillon says:

          What’s your evidence for any of that?

        • Savannah says:

          Many vegetables have more protein per calorie than meat does. It really isn’t difficult to get enough protein as a vegetarian. Tempeh has 31 grams of protein. Seitan has 75 grams of protein! Tofu has 10 grams per serving. Beans have around 7. All of these are cholesterol free foods, and are healthier than animal protein any day.

          • Kat says:

            At the same time from an evolutionary look in human development, things like culture and language really took off after meat became a larger portion of our diets. It is fantastic we are at a point in human development where we can choose more what we eat and have the ability to adequately supplement our diets if needed.

          • Noah Dillon says:

            Actually, civil development and leisure, complex societies and the arts are far more correlated with agriculture. Meat has been a luxury for a very few people throughout most of recorded history. I mean, if you think of almost any traditional diet, they’re based around grains, supplemented by fruits and vegetables, and then meat as a luxury. Once societies have a large and stable middle class, then they typically start consuming more meat—much more of a 20th and 21st century phenomenon. And in any case, these facts, and the idea of humane execution, don’t really let people off the ethical hook for 1. killing sentient animals, and 2. the enormous global warming impact that ranching has.

          • Lori Jacobs says:

            I recently saw something about the number of animals killed and displaced by large scale harvesting of crops. It’s pretty ugly. Not to mention the number of animals at risk for extinction because of habitat destruction to create acreage for farming.

            If you want to be vegetarian or vegan, I applaud you. But I don’t believe that makes you better than everyone who eats meat, nor that you should pressure others into doing it. By all means, discuss and expose animal cruelty. I will boycott companies who are egregious. I can’t control all my meat, other than through my vote, simply because I don’t cook so get my meals pre-prepared from a variety of places. I choose responsible companies as often as possible but there aren’t yet enough for a decent variety. When I buy eggs, I don’t buy ‘free range’ or ‘cage free’. I spend the extra to buy brands that very specifically state that the chickens have daytime access to the outdoors AND specify how much space per chicken is provided.

            My position is that as humans, because of our evolutionary status, we have a responsibility to treat animals better than other predators. We understand, we can, therefore we should. But nature has created a predator/prey system and nothing we do will change the way animals eat each other in the wild. Certainly we already don’t tear our meat off a living animal! But we have much further to go in the effort to treat the animals that provide us food well. I strongly believe we should lobby for animals bred for food to have comfortable lives right up to the last minute. Unlike animals, we have the ability, and therefore the responsibility, to kill quickly. We can make the effort to do so as painlessly as physically possible.

            Being vegetarian or vegan doesn’t mean there is no animal cruelty or loss involved in providing your food, sad as that is.

          • Noah Dillon says:

            OK, but far more farmland is devoted to feeding animals that are slaughtered for meat, so that you get the environmental devastation you referred to, plus more. Farming meat is really inefficient, and uses far more resources, including lots and lots of fossil fuel carbon. Plants are, from every possible standpoint, a far more efficient production of all nutrients. Which is not to say that such a thing isn’t toxic to the environment. Seven billion humans are really destructive no matter what. But eating plant-based is far less destructive than meat.

            So why are you applauding vegetarianism if it’s not an ethically virtuous action?

            Responsible companies still put a bolt gun through an animal’s skull at the end, and then drain the blood out, cut up its bones, and render all of the corpse into food and other products. Milk comes from slaughtering baby cows (humanely or otherwise). It sounds like your decision is to treat animals as well as you like, as long as in the end they die for your dinner. I don’t know how you get that from evolution or what “evolutionary status” is. Like if a more advanced race of aliens descended and started penning and chopping up children, that would be justified because they’re more sophisticated somehow?

            Ranching is not a predator/prey system. That is not equivalent to a leopard hunting an antelope. To try to equate a line of cows being sledgehammered to, like, a herd of big cats on the savannah is really bizarre.

            Like herbivores, we don’t have to kill or eat animals at all. You have that choice to make. It seems really strange that you think someone else should not advocate for you to think about that choice and the ethics of it, that they shouldn’t try to persuade you not to kill other beings just because you like the taste of their flesh. And to claim that all food production leads to animal death and therefore, you know, screw it, let’s just eat a whole cow whenever, is a logical fallacy too far. People will always die, so why don’t we go on a killing spree, right? I mean, come on.

            You can say, The value of my meal choice is greater than my value for an animal’s life. That’s pretty honest; fine, you made your choice. But to dress up that choice in rationalizations about mice in farmland or humane ranching is really just obscene nonsense.

          • Lori Jacobs says:

            i just found it interesting mostly. I was under a different impression. But your points are well taken.

            Truthfully, the eventual answer to both problems going to be sclence, particularly GMOs. I know, people hate and fear GMOs. And I have concerns. But they’re not about the future of the technology- which has already been used to heal people of life-threatening disorders- I take issue with the lack of oversight and transparency.

            I don’t need to justify my choices to anyone! But I do think it’s a personal choice and not something that should be pushed on anyone.

          • Noah Dillon says:

            I don’t think there’s any reason to think that food police are going to come take away meat and make everyone eat hay. But I do think it’s totally fair—it’s free speech!—to encourage people to consider what they’re eating.

            I agree with you about the importance of GMOs in the future of food. It’s a powerful technology that should be regulated and its products carefully scrutinized. So far, the seeds and plants all seem to be above board. That’s great. And stuff like golden rice has been a boon to malnourished people. I think the other thing we really need to consider is global warming. Mitigating its harms will have a tremendous benefit to farmers all over the world, and hence a huge impact on hunger and malnutrition.

  3. Ray Riehle says:

    Great article. Things to keep in mind whenever you watch a documentary. Thank you!

  4. Pando says:

    I agree with your statement: “They cannot be released; we are incapable teaching them what they need to know to survive.”

    You did not mention the well-known story of Keiko, the orca who starred in the ironic movie “Free Willy”. After pressure was exerted to set him free, he only survived for about a year in the wild, returning for human contact repeatedly. It seems he was incapable of surviving in his natural environment after 23 years of captivity.

    • Very true I was always saddened by the story where he was letting kids ride on his back. Seems like many prison inmates he was institutionalized it was all he knew.

    • Ben says:

      How about I lock you in your house for the rest of your life, and make you perform for people looking at you through the window? We’ll call your performances ‘excercise’

      • Bill Katz says:

        I’ll keep it simple since I could probably write a song about it, which I am doing now, lol. Man creates and builds for profit. We kill for money. We send both humans and non humans into bondage for money. Then we create reasons why these environments are advantageous to their welfare. Some of the documented southerners made post civil war was that their slaves had a good shack to sleep in and were fed well. So far, I have read a few fair-minded critiques and I have read the obvious industry trolls. Training wild animals to do tricks for us is quite a bit different than training our dogie to raise a paw to shake. Dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years. So have Filas Silvestis Catus aka, domestic kitty cats. Wild animals doing tricks is so very 19th and 20th century. Andit’t time to retire that picture.

        I don’t discount the importance of zoos that develope enclosures that mimic their natural habitat. But those healthy environments DO NOT INCLUDE BEHAVIOR ENFORCEMENT TO DO TRICKS. You loose any argument when you suggest that having these creatures do tricks in order to pay for their upkeep is so nonsensical. It is very well documented that circus animals are tortured in the training process.

        The difference between you and I is that I love animals purely for their existence and you love them for the revenue they can bring it. I win the argument and you loose it just as the circus tiger looses bladder control while sitting on a circus stool while being whipped.

        • Kelly Green says:

          For the record, it has been proven that animals PREFER to work for their food than to receive it without working for it. ‘Tricks’ are fabulous for mental stimulation, physical exercise, and building confidence (the animal is in control of it’s environment in a sense- doing something makes food available) as well as bonding with trainers. If you have ever owned and trained a dog, you will know how much they love to learn. There is also a parallel in that wild orca would have to work for their food. While SeaWorld do not starve their animals in order to train them, the extra tidbits do require the whales to work for it.
          Zoo’s DO use positive reinforcement to train behaviours. These are primarily for medical purposes and reducing the stress involved for routine procedures such as blood draws or injections. I know a bear that will present each side of it’s haunch on cue, it’s genitals, open it’s mouth, put each paw on the wire for inspection/treatment. The bear doesn’t know the different between a medical behaviour or a trick- all the same to the bear. And she LOVED her training.

          • Noah Dillon says:

            I own a cat who hates to learn or do tricks. Dogs are particularly adapted to living with humans and responding to them. They’re not indicative of the behaviors of animals generally.

        • margie neal says:


  5. billkowalski2014 says:

    Certainly there are flaws in just about all documentaries, especially those which have an agenda. I disagree very much with your unsupported assertion that captive whales somehow are a benefit to the race as a whole (do you mean the human race or the race of orcas?) I assume you mean a benefit to the animals, because there is little to be gained by humans other than some $60-per-ticket entertainment which could easily be replaced by something else, and kids would learn to get by without those vital stuffed orca dolls.

    Keeping an animal imprisoned and training it to do unnatural things shouldn’t be the price of “humanizing” orcas, which do not need to be humanized. They should be respected as intelligent animals and left alone to live their lives, just like apes should be respected and allowed to live their lives without having to wear little hats and do tricks like juggling or pretending to talk on the phone. Looking at the value of animals only in the context of whatever benefit they directly provide to humans has caused much of the “valuable” animals to be hunted to near extinction, such as whales, as well as endangering animals perceived to have negative value, such as wolves.

    I’m no animal rights person and eat probably more than my share of meat, but I extend my skepticism to the defensive statements of Sea World, and the cheery verbiage they line their promotional materials with. The point of “Blackfish” is Seaworld has used Tilikum and other orcas with little regard for the animals, other than to keep them alive for the next show, while pumping out public relations material that makes the whales’ prison seem like some kind of concrete lined nature preserve. Sea World wants to be a nicey-nicey place no parent would feel guilty bringing their kids to and spending a ton of money, not a dungeon where animals are miserable in spite of the unfortunate permanently happy-looking faces they were given by nature. In deflating that notion, the documentary did a fine job, flaws and all. Actually, for your next burst of skepticism, you might tackle some of the public claims Sea World makes to rationalize what they do to animals every day to keep their shareholders happy.

    • marianwhit says:

      Bill, do you see the slippery slope you are on? Your meat eating days are numbered, because cows are forced to do unnatural things (like die) for our selfish need to stay alive and eat food with very high nutritional value. Dog owners who leave for eight hours of work force their beloved companions to “hold it” until they are let out. Don’t even get me started on pigs, which are highly intelligent and sensitive animals. I hate to say it (because that is not what motivates me), but part of the attraction is the power and danger these animals represent, and I think our fascination is in being eye-to-eye with a fellow apex predator from the aquatic domain. Face it. a lot of our sports draw fans for the danger element (air shows, most kinds of racing, rodeo, bull fighting etc.). One of the things I ask myself is where such deep sentiment for the whales came from? I am guessing through contact with them. I have gone to see whales in the wild, and the Seaworld ticket is cheap by comparison. And what you get are black dorsal fins in the distance, which is good, because having done both I would rather see a few animals be oogled by a few million than have all those people running around chasing them in the wild.

      • Do YOU now that ‘slippery slope’ is a fallacy?

        • marianwhit says:

          Only if you view “slippery slope” as purely a logical argument. I simply see it as a hard place to get back to and you come back muddy. This issue is not purely about logic, but laced with intense emotion (and a lot of human-hatred). I am trying to suggest that we are responsible for animals that we have deprived of a normal life and that they deserve humane treatment (not legal rights on par with humans). The wild populations should be protected, and that to feel for them we need to experience them in a personal way. We are not “entitled” to anything, as far as I am concerned. I do find it interesting that we appear to be the only species that feels guilt about being an apex predator.

          • Bill Katz says:

            Marian, well I happen to agree with Bill but I don’t eat meat so there is no slippery slop with me.

      • Oh. But look at that. More than one fallacy.

        What makes you think you (or anyone else) is ‘entitled’ to see these animals at all, at SeaWorld OR in the wild?

      • BobM says:

        Dying isn’t unnatural :-).

        • marianwhit says:

          Good point Bob M, I should have said raised in feedlots to die prematurely by mechanical means. This is something that would not likely bother a lion (or any cat) at all. Why are we so uncomfortable with being a very efficient apex predator? Will we then impose our values on the cats?

      • Dying is one whole half of nature – or were you attempting to be funny?

      • Kate R says:

        There are several commenters here who keep putting orcas on the same standing as domesticated animals. The argument that they will be safer and healthier in captivity is not relevant. Life in the wild may be shorter, but it will be BETTER. Also, our modern technology is amazing: we can listen to orcas online via hydrophones, see where they are travelling day to day via online maps, and watch numerous videos of orcas living in the wild. I grew up visiting Sealand and loved it, but when an orca calf died (ironically by someone trying to free it) everything changed. I saw that the whole industry of using marine creatures to entertain humans is plain wrong.

        • That is a very thoughtful point. The morality of zoos and large predators in captivity is not isolated to the marine mammals only. The deeper question is not “are these animals in desirable habitats and living conditions”, rather is there a benefit to the race? For some animals there is no benefit, in the case of the orca the answer I believe is yes. Not for the individual rather for the animals as a species. Yet what is the benefit for the race if the captivity benefit for the individual animals is minimal. Maybe a longer life with minimal risk? I stress… maybe. For the race however the benefit is much stronger. Some have argued that you can take other routes to achieve that fondness. Are videos and hydrophones and tv programs enough to inspire another generation of animal lovers? I am not as confident as some of you are. Take this for the anecdote that it is. The morality of keeping large animals in small pens and training them to jump around for out amusement is poor. Still I see the benefit in my own children. My children love any animal. The one they see, pet, and watch live carries a special place in their consciousness, and clearly they hold a great deal of affection for them. Human beings are predisposed to place emphasis on live events. Hence the live music show is more popular than the download mp3, even if the quality of the download is much better. Clearly seeing these animals in person carries a special place for those children. When they grow up to be adults will these animal hold a special personal affection for them. I would say yes. Is there a benefit to that personal attachment? Again, I believe so. Can it be duplicated through television, hydrophones or whale watches. Although ideally it should, it just doesn’t for humans. It is the difference between watching the movie woodstock or having been there in upstate new york. It just isn’t the same experience. It is a reasonable to point out that there is a benefit to the orca as a race if not an individual from there captivity. Does it balance the moral scales out. In my opinion maybe. Does it make it right to present a documentary as a factual expose yet twist the facts to produce an emotional response. I don’t believe so even if the goal is the high ground. Present the facts and then editorialize it. Don’t fabricate and obfuscate.

          • Bill Katz says:

            Stephen, I have some disappointing news for you. Everyone, every company, every institution, everyone everywhere paints with a brushstroke fVorable to their positions. Get used to it. It is endemic in our DNA to convince and win supporters. The basic premis of the movie is not wrong. Parts of it are cut and pasted to make the points and enhance them. But to cut the work down because it isn’t a factual, scientifically structured dissertation is jut plain wrong to do – unless you disagree with the goal and message of the work. I happen to agree wholeheartedly with it in spite of some defects. No historical movie or docu drama or documentary has ever been made perfectly reflecting history. This work will continue to find its supporters and its distractors. Humane activists have already won the battle for circus elephants. We will soon end the torture of circus tigers. We will end the circus acts of the orca and the sooner the better. And btw, you should be able to bring your children to zoos and enclosures where wild animals live. But not where they must do tricks for you. Shame on you if you can’t educate your children to respect animals without the need to do tricks.

          • So by your logic- Large intelligent hunters who swim dozens of nautical miles everyday hunt and interact are better off in a restricted enclosure well fed with nothing much to do but wait for there next meal is some how agreeable to you. If you give them something to do its bad because you have emotionalized it as demeaning and your assuming that the animals are tortured to achieve the “tricks” as you call them.
            My point is simple
            Stop breeding them let the ones in captivity perform during their normal lifespan since they cannot be restored to the wild is probably more humane than putting them in pens waiting for them to die and letting people look at them.
            I am not taking a side on the zoo question I am merely pointing out that the habitats for these animals and other large hunters is magnitude larger than anything any zoo can afford to maintain. Never mine the specific costs of feeding and maintaining habitat for the largest marine mammals in captivity. There is nothing good about zoo enclosures for the individual animals. The benefit lies in the association and emotional connection that humans have with the animals. I am realist and trying not to be dominated by emotionalism. Yes putting the marine mammals out to pasture may make us feel better but it offers nothing to these animals. There is no equivalent to the kenya elephant preserve in the ocean and no way to segregate these animals into a healthy environment. So you want to choose what makes you feel like your doing something to help them without substance.
            Next time your at the national Zoo, bronx zoo or san diego pay close attention to the tiger exhibit, I do, and then ask yourself if they are being tortured or not. Is bored to death torture for a large predator cat? I don’t know and neither do you.

      • Kat says:

        I wasn’t aware dying was unnatural for cows. Believe it or not there are humane ways to keep animals and kill them for food. In fact, Temple Grandin used her unique perspectives in life to help make the beef industry less stressful and more humane for the cows. And of course these cows are bred for their meat.

    • In fact, yes, Skeptoid — If you’d like to do the public a service, Please follow the advice and look skeptically at SeaWorld’s public persona and promotional material. (Especially their twitter tweets.)

  6. A Ward says:

    Stephen, thank you for this.

    I DETEST being manipulated and I’ve avoided watching this film all the way through because the little bit I did see of it was heavy on the “if you don’t want to free all orcas and boycott SeaWorld, you’re a horrible person” stuff and very light on actual substance. Plenty of people I know have recommended this film and I keep telling them, “No, thanks.”

    It’s nice to know I’m not alone in my little corner.

    • Same goes for me, this film relies on human emotion. it is attempting to persuade you by fair or foul means. Pretty poor IMHO, IF they really wanted to get a message over then surely the film (notice i say film and not documentary) would of been relesed on TV and not at the movies.

      Blackfish,.,,,propaganda in its most abhorrent form.

  7. John Dineley says:

    Thank you for writing this article. ‘Blackfish’ style and standeds are very poor for any documentary. The makers of the film were not honest and had a clear agenda against zoological collections and aquaria.

    Since the film was released there has been a large number of rebuttals regarding its presentation and information; even from trainers who appeared in the film.

    It is a sad fact that some sceptics have fallen for this film propaganda included Michael Shermer:

    And even Scientific American:

    Thanks you again for the article.

  8. Michaelb says:

    May I add the damage done to young psyches. Watching animals perform with the surrounding crowd’s peer pressure gives a skewed view of the world. The forming mind is taught that using captive animals it encourage. They are too young to understand the animal is not enjoying the experience as much as it is reacting to not be irritated until it does the activity. They are taught to overlook what is the equivalent of a prison cell. Sea parks and zoos are antiquated in the world of immersive entertainment technology that show the animal untainted in it’s natural environment. To condone the current use of captive bred Orcas is akin to releasing all slaves but keeping their children. Captive dolphins have been successfully “wilded”. How sure are we that it can not be done with Orcas?

    • Sami says:

      How exactly do you know that the animal doesn’t like the activity? Do you believe that positive reinforcement training is a farce put on by animal caretakers? How can you compare SeaWorld’s 7 million gallon tanks to prison cell? How much have you researched captive and captive-bred animals being released into the wild, specifically orcas? Have you researched how effective animal entertainment shows are at raising awareness, funds, donations, etc., compared to exhibits in which animals do not perform? Just curious.

      • Michaelb says:

        There is so much to reply to but I will start. 7 million gallon concrete tank is relatively a prison to an animal that swims hundreds of miles a day in a stimulus rich environment that is not a hard surface echo chamber. ( many marine shows are much smaller) Read the books on dolphin training for the Flipper TV show. What price do you place on the animal for the purpose of raising awareness that arguably be done better other ways. Society evolves with the gaining of knowledge.

        • Sami says:

          So are all pet owners keeping their pets prison in their houses? After all, cats and dogs would walk tens or hundreds of miles every day if they weren’t confined, and are almost never allowed that amount of exercise. Not to mention the fact that houses are foreign, unnatural places a cat or dog would absolutely never live in the wild. Plus humans discourage them from performing natural behaviors, like clawing or digging. That’s all very unnatural and under-stimulating, but there are millions of cats and dogs who exponentially outnumber orcas in captivity. Do you advocate for their return to the wild?

          Anyone who cares for an animal knows that it requires exercise and stimulation; while these necessities cannot be monitored in the average person’s home, caretakers of animals in zoos, sanctuaries, theme parks, etc., are heavily monitored and required by law to follow health regulations that include the exercise and stimulation of their animals. You don’t have to be happy the orcas have but a mere 7 million gallons of water to swim around in, but you can’t claim they’re not swimming hundreds of miles a day. You don’t have to be happy that the tanks don’t have an ocean floor, but you can’t say that natural flooring is the only stimulation orcas respond to. Given that animal trainers give their animals toys, enrichments, treats, and teach them tricks and behaviors as well as encourage natural ones, I’m fairly certain captive animals have a similar if not higher level of mental stimulation than most of their wild counterparts. You don’t have to like it, but it’s true.

          Society does evolve with the gaining of knowledge. We have learned so much about these animals from observing them in captivity, in-depth information that we could only guess at if we’d only observed them in the wild. You might be interested in researching whales, sea turtles, and deep-sea creatures; there are animals we’ve existed alongside for hundreds of years, but we barely know what migratory paths they take, let alone their social habits or interactions with others. We don’t know when they migrate, their average life expectancy, if they are solitary, when they breed, their complex biology… There’s only so much you can learn from watching an animal from a distance or attaching a GPS to them.

          While you may not enjoy it, we have the means to care for these animals and offer them enriched lives. Because of this, an extraordinarily small number of orcas have raised more awareness for their species than any amount of wild observation could possibly give rise to. Because of this, billions upon billions of dollars have been given to research and conservation programs to preserve future generations of orcas as well as dozens of other animals. So it’s perfectly valid to dislike orcas in captivity, but, as you said, society evolves with the gaining of knowledge, and that’s exactly what animals in captivity have fostered.

          • Michaelb says:

            Your opinions are interesting but do not replace facts.

          • Sky says:

            Except that the things we learn while they are in captivity is not natural. Take Cesear Milan for example. He’s technique’s for training dogs has been based off of studies of wolves in captivity. The behaviors those wolves displayed while in captivity were unnatural. When observed in the wild they showed completely different behaviors. There is no pack leader who needs to constantly exert their dominance, there is a mom and dad and the pack works like a family. So maybe we have been able to learn more about the animal’s physical biology, but everything behavioral would be completely unnatural.

          • Kate R says:

            Truly, trying to say a captive life is richer than a wild life is nonsense. And, once again, I do wish people would quit comparing wild animals to domesticated animals. We have fantastic technology on our side to learn more valuable information about wild animals than we could ever learn from captive ones.

  9. Lazer says:

    Welcome to the documentary editing style of Michael Moore.

  10. the_bottom_line_truth says:

    Still there is no reason to have any animals in captivity period. Bottom line is it’s wrong especially with creatures such as orcas who posses such incredible brain and emotional capacity.

    • marianwhit says:

      How about chickens? Chickens need to be captive or the other predators out there will take them out pretty fast, and your food supply with it. How about animals that are poached to near extinction in the wild? How about domesticated cats that wreck native bird populations?

      • the_bottom_line_truth says:

        They are domesticated. Been so for generations. There is no comparing something meant to be wild and something that is a producted of domestication. Those animals shouldn’t have been poached in there first place. Stupid humans are the ones to blame for that. If you really wanna help animals that are on the verge of extinction, deal with the human aspect of it before locking them away under the guise of “conservation”. Go ahead and cry it’s the only way to save them, and it may well be so, but they should have been hunted to begin with by stupid humans.

        • Sami says:

          Just curious… You realize domesticated animals were once wild, right? You’ll disregard an argument against domesticated animals compared to wild animals, even though the domesticated animals were once wild?

          Seems a bit silly, since you start off your first comment with ‘there is no reason to have any animals in captivity period.’ Apparently domesticated animals aren’t really animals in your mind.

      • Can you truly not see the difference between an orca and a chicken? The orca is closer biologically to us than a chicken, so by your “reasoning” perhaps humans should be held captive in confined spaces and do tricks in front of thousands of spectators to earn their keep.

        • Noah Dillon says:

          I think that’s a good point, Aileen, except I would draw the reverse conclusion.

          Here’s an example of what I mean: I live in New York. Last year, during the Mayoral election, there was an incident where a subway train was stopped and prohibited from entering a station that had been discovered to be the home of two orphaned kittens. The fear was that the train would come into the station and possibly harm the cats. The cats were rescued, adopted by a good home, and the issue of whether or not it was appropriate for the city to hold up commuters to save the cats became a topic of debate. Almost all the candidates, except for one, went to great lengths to explain why saving kittens is so wonderful. It was pure pandering. No one wants to see two kittens killed, but they drew an arbitrary distinction between those cats and the rats that live in the subway, the feral cats living all over the city, the pigeons roosting in the subway tunnels and above ground, mice, etc. And I think it rests solely on the fact that voters like cute kittens and don’t think very much about the other species.

          I think that if we’re going to declare as a society that saving certain animals is good, it’s not enough to simply express how good it is, we ought to make a thoughtful, ethical case for why not saving other such animals is equally good. I can’t see any reasonable argument that can be made that distinguishes feral cats from feral rats and mice. I don’t think any of them should be run over by trains, as utopian and unrealistic as that may be. Likewise with orcas: we ought not just assert that protecting orcas is good, we ought to also have explain why not protecting other domesticated and wild animals is equally good, which is a much harder question. I’m no saint with regard to this, but I am naïvely idealistic.

    • Ryan says:

      I agree with you there should not be a reason for these animals to be held captive. I think that there is no reason these animals should be caged up. These animals are treated unjustly and Blackfish showed the results of these outcomes, when these orcas are treated unfairly.

  11. BobM says:

    Less than credulous? Might wanna change that.

  12. Ray says:

    First, dolphins are whales so it is quite correct to refer to Orcas as whales. They are, in fact, toothed whales.

    Second, I find it extremely frustrating to be handed what is claimed to be “evidence of fabrication of facts” when absolutely no support is given for this alleged “evidence”.

    I find this article to be very poor and below the usual standards of Skeptoid.

    • CraigW says:

      First, it is not unanimously agreed upon by taxonomists that dolphins are whales. There is much debate on the subject and just because dolphins are referred to as “toothed whales” does not mean they are grouped together in the whale family (although we can all agree that they are cetaceans).

      Second, I agree with you, and find that most of the evidence that claims to refute Blackfish’s credibility fail to provide credible sources themselves.

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t morsels of the “evidence of fabrication of facts” pulled directly from the Seaworld website? Reference uncited?

  13. Kay says:

    Most of the numbered points are verbatim from SeaWorld’s website. Why is that not a reference?

    • Lori says:

      It is. The last words in the paragraph immediately above the first numbered point is ‘Sea World raises the following objections:”

  14. Hi Key says:

    l watch this films sometimes ago from internet and just can’t recall where is it but this one is good. The are some point of discussion about the article itself.

  15. Kenneth says:

    if ur job is keeping animals in captivity, rething your occupation.

  16. Kenneth says:


  17. Stacey says:

    Several of the points above were taken word-for-word from SeaWorld’s published response to the film Blackfish:

  18. Ann kimmy says:

    Go to seaworld’s websites response to “blackfish” and he copied the “assumptions” made from that site. Kinda “FISHY”

  19. Louis P Constant says:

    Nice Wikipedia referencing there…. I actually thought it was a HALF descent article until I found your references are no more credible than the movie itself.

    There are much too many words that you use to describe that you do not know, including: probably, most likely etc… which doesn’t help.

    I think your first statement is the most crucial detail here:
    It is illogical to think that these animals should be kept in tanks of such size, and made to perform for the entirety of their lives.

  20. Arik says:

    I appreciate your skepticism regarding this film. I feel like as a skeptic that I have to bring attention to the fact that the flaws that you have pointed out are repeated almost verbatim on Sea World’s rebuttal website ( If this is your source, I would question the benefits of challenging the film and not the rebuttals (which clearly are designed to discredit the film and minimize criticism of Sea World). Is this data somehow LESS biased than the film?

    • Arik well though out valid point. I wrote this quite a while ago like all things refinement of analysis appreciates with experience. Maybe I will revisit it in a future post and take a critical look at Sea Worlds Claims related to these events.

  21. Laced says:

    Excellent article. I hadn’t cobsidered the conundrum you make clear at the end:

    Current captive Orca can never be released into the wild. So, there’s two options 1) living out their lives training and doing shows for parts of their day, or 2) Just living in their holding tanks all day…. I can see the argument that the former will give the whales more intellectual stimulation as being the lesser of two evils. As long as they are treated well in the process (which I’m not saying is or isn’t already happening at sea world… To be honest I don’t know, just moving forward they should be treated well)

    The obvious answer is that we should just stop breeding these un-releasable captive orcas. Then enjoy the remaining shows of these amazing creatures while letting it slowly fade out over the next 30-50 years.

  22. Heather H says:

    Can not and will not agree with your perception of the film… The trainers you feel misconstrued things are the ones who risked the threat of working with this particular animal without protection all the while SeaWorld continued to site that the animal was nonviolent… If you have so many incidents and documented behaviors and a cooperation saying otherwise then there is still a problem… These big businesses are in the business to make money… Do you see any former trainers making bank off of animals they are saying are unstable or mistreated??? A I’ve checked and the answer is no.

    • I think the trainer issue is separate from the film which is clearly slated in one direction. I think it is invalid to say that the corporation is the only one who can have motivated reasoning. There are many examples of people who have an axe to grind with previous employers, or seek attention, or have a financial interest in the film or the attention that being filmed brings. It can even be said that the trainers may have been edited out of context. I am not saying that any of these things have in fact happened. It is just false to assume that everything Sea World says is false and biased and that everything the trainers say is pure and unbiased.
      Sure Sea World, like any zoo, turns a kind of blind eye to the fact that animals in captivity are not in their natural environment, and caging an intelligent alpha predator is less than ideal. I feel that way about Lions and Tigers, elephants and Gorilla’s(although not all are predators, predators tend to be of higher intelligence). I also see that given the human race’s proclivity for using animals as a resource I see the benefit of making these animals personal and “real” to children and adults. Giving humans an emotional attachment to the animals is to the species benefit. I do see that, for this film, it was completely biased with several key facts edited to put Sea World the worst possible light. Make compelling theater but draws a biased picture.

    • Ryan says:

      I think it is fair to say SeaWorld is in it for the money. They have been opened up to so much criticism, why would they still be putting on shows then? You can maybe make the argument that the film is one-sided since SeaWorld did not cooperate, but I personally believe they are at fault with the ways the animals are being treated, which lead to the attacks.

  23. Emily says:

    Anyone who thinks having a pet and loving and caring for a pet is the same as a company keeping animals in captivity to make billions should take a rope to the neck! Studies show that they live longer in the wild but you would choose to ignore that FACT. You clearly don’t care as long as you get entertained, as stated in a comment above you don’t deserve to see them at all. Some of the animals in the film were very ill depressed and hurt. They would be better off if they was put to sleep. Also it is unjustifiable to take a baby away from her mum because she is disrupting a billion dollar company. At the end of the day everyone is missing the point these animals should live in a natural environment. If you vile specimens keep getting your sick entertainment we will have no wildlife left at all. Selfish f**kers

    • Emily you are obviously very passionate about animals I respect that. IF you accept that the animals were “ill depressed and hurt” from the film I understand that you can get that impression that we are heartless. We meaning you and I really have no idea about what an animal is feeling depressed or otherwise. Depression is a human term. The movie tried to imply the false impression that the animals are sick and as far as we know they get excellent vet care. That they live longer in the wild, in truth there is some evidence to dispute that and the current data is unreliable, so that is mostly opinion not fact. Putting these captive raised animals in the wild is simply not an option. Well thinking and misguided individuals tried that with the Orca from the free willy movies and despite tons of money training and practice it did not make it. Truth is the Orca need a social environment to guide them in the wild. You cannot get wild animals with a social structure to take on another animal raised by humans. Alone they die. The answer is just not “put them back where they belong”. Very difficult with social marine animals, far more complicated than just releasing them. We are back to the argument of removing orcas bred and raised in captivity. Not as simple as you might think and based on past experience may be impossible. I am not convinced that there are any completely satisfying answers for this problem. No one is saying they are pets, however I have moral questions about “pet” animals in general. I am not sure that they are anything more than tools that we(humans) emotionally personalize. The moral distinction is simply our label not a true distinction. Is time the factor for you? I mean is it ok that humans force bred wolves over generations so that they could become workers, or worse toy dogs for our personal entertainment? That ship is done and dogs are dogs so it is ok for us to keep them in a domesticated environment? If intelligent social animals like dogs are OK why is that ok but not trained dolphins? Most distinctions about animals are arbitrary often a rationalization of human qualities that people personally see in animals but may not exist at all. Ok to slaughter pigs by the millions for bacon but not ok to cage a tiger. I am fascinated by how humans arbitrarily deal with these obvious factual shortcomings.

    • Ryan says:

      I agree with what you are saying. I feel that if anyone has a pet would understand what these types of animals are going through. Most animal owners do not leave their animals caged up all day long. They are given freedom to roam around. Having them being caged up for the majority, can hurt their mental ability and psyche.

  24. Emily says:

    Well I let my cats out every day and they always come home, not just for food as they could go somewhere else to get fed or eat mice. I don’t think a whale would choose to be in captivity? Maybe I’m wrong maybe its a dream come true, but I will never understand how someone could think this is fine even if they had bigger tanks and better care And kept in families they should be in the wild, surely u understand this

  25. Emily says:

    Also I didn’t say put them back I said put them to sleep. And stop breeding in captivity and leave the ones in the wild alone. As for what’s happened in the past I wasn’t here or old enough to know or have an opinion. This pulled at my heartstrings because they are amazing intelligent animals that should be respected. know one likes it when the whale decides to take a person captive and kill them.

  26. Emily says:

    And defo not ok to cage a tiger but it is ok to kill pigs. I believe if u need to eat it make sure you could kill it. So if you are going to eat the tiger and use the skin for clothes, go for it!! We people do not cage millions of pigs for our entertainment!??

  27. Ryan says:

    I think it is very tragic the way some of these animals are treated. I think it is unfortunate that some of the orcas are caged and basically held captive. People can make the argument that the document was one-sided, but Seaworld chose not to participate in the movie. I think after watching this video it has changed many people’s views on Seaworld overall? What do you think?

    • jenna says:

      I think many people after watching this documentary think these animals are not even given a chance at living. They are brutally treated and abused. Together, society can make a difference and give these orcas a fair chance at life.

      • Jenna brutally treated an abused? Hmmm not sure about that. Returning the orca to the wild has thus far been a failure. It is a complicated issue. I again think that these animals play a role in conservation of marine wildlife by making them personable and real to children, same with other captured marine mammals. Yes I am ethically challenged by there captivity. Just putting them out to sea is not an answer in my opinion.

  28. Lindsay says:

    My argument is that everyone is focusing on jus these “killer” whales…what about cows, fish, horses, dogs, zebras, lions, and all zoo animals that are endangered! All pet owners put there pets in their houses and in cages, along with zoos. After all, cats and dogs would walk tens or hundreds of miles every day if they weren’t confined, and are almost never allowed that amount of exercise to begin with under our command! Plus humans discourage them from performing natural behaviors, like clawing or digging. That’s all very unnatural but yet there are millions of cats and dogs who exponentially outnumber orcas in captivity. Do you advocate for their return to the wild? I don’t think so.

  29. Lizzy says:

    I disagree with many of your point of views. I do not think that the education of the trainers has anything to do with the whales being kept in captivity. Just from watching the documentary, I did seem like the trainers only had on the job training but if there is no requirement for higher education then I do not think that is something they should be put down for. If anything, this documentary has greatly changed my views on sea world to nothing but negative. They way they keep these animals locked in captivity for their whole lives is just cruel. You made some interesting comments about sea world separating the babies from their mothers. In the film they say that the baby whale never leaves their mothers side in the wild, so it does not matter how old any whale was when sea world separated them. Separating them is just cruel. Overall I do not think Blackfish is a bad documentary.

    • Lizzy it is a story, edited and filmed to produce an emotional response. You got that response because you are a thinking feeling human being. That doesn’t mean that the narrative isn’t biased or inaccurate. If you stop with I watched the film and I believe sea world is evil it’s is only half the story. Both sides of this story have an agenda. You can vote with your dollars and make your feeling clear about the parks and I respect that. Just realize that the film is one very biased point of view and that fact in my opinion makes it a good film but a bad documentary.

    • Achelle says:

      The “baby” whale that the film talks about separating from its mother was not the newborn calf shown in the video during that segment. It was a 12 year old whale with a baby of her own who was moved with her. “Long-range vocals” is science fiction – they made it up in the segment where they claimed scientists came in to analyze the mother’s vocals (which also never happened). The video during that segment was of another whale in another facility playing around. The audio wasn’t coming from the whale in the video nor from the whale that was being discussed – it was generic whale sounds. Because whale sounds resemble moaning to us humans, we interpret it as mournful when it’s not. Finally, they narrated all of this with a guy who is a former SeaWorld employee. For lazy viewers, that’s enough to be credible, even though he never worked with the whale in question, and is on record in court proceedings stating facts that directly contradict the rumors he makes up in the shockumentary. All of these random pieces of audio and video and narratives were cobbled together to elicit an emotional response from you, and it worked. They successfully duped you. Congratulations.

  30. Jesse says:

    I have to say i totally disagree with your last paragraph directed at activists. The idea that we have to keep captives to get an”emotional attachment” to these creatures. Slavery cant be justified by saying it helps us to feel an attachment to them, I believe your premise to be wrong and the act of any form of slavery is inherently wrong. Keeping captives is exactly the opposite of humanizing and creating emotional attachment. This objectifies a living creature and teaches millions of children that its ok to keep them in captivity for our amusement. We don’t need to see them in tanks or see some trainers show of control over them to feel wonder, amazement, and empathy towards these creatures. We can get these feelings and attachments by seeing them in their natural habitat where it is much more beneficial for everyone including the animals whose lives are truly affected.

    • That is an emotional opinion although not wrong it characterizes animals as humans and they aren’t. We as the dominant species use plants animals of all types for different purposes. This is just for entertainment. My point, to be clear, is that it is unrealistic to think that even a tiny fraction of people can or will go on whale watches. Additionally that it that will not produce the emotional link that people have for these animals. The sense of wonder that small children get by seeing these things up front in a safe environment they just can’t experience in the wild. The decline of that emotional attachment is harmful indirectly since we have a history of abusing marine mammals, and animals are driven to extinction by us all the time. Just the facts of your reaction shows how much an impact the personal nature your human sensibilities have about whales. It will be difficult to emotionalized for a majority without that personal experience. Whales in the wild are still being slaughtered by the Japanese for food, dolphins are killed in nets and sharks are slaughtered by the millions. I am not saying that captured whales are fine, and making them jump for our amusement is benevolent. Rather that they are here and there is some benefit to the race a whole, including other large mammals. All which perform at a multitude of aquarium attractions. Categorizing it as slavery… I cannot agree with the sentiment. The morality of domesticated animals for food, wild animals for entertainment, and the resulting extrapolations are not 100% cut and dried. It is a complicated discussion.

  31. Ed says:

    Not sure how independent this review is the points given are word by word the same as what sea world gave for their defence against the film black fish. Either someone has copied and pasted or this is sea world just under a different name..

    However yes the film is a documentary is some sense, I don’t think it tries hiding the fact that it’s aim is to show sea world in a bad light and that it does not agree with the captivity or practice of the orcas.
    It clearly does state that the whales captured at start are not done by sea world. It would be naive to think that the orcas are doing the tricks because they are happy and just want to do it. Although like zoos captive animals have a great need at times for the education and awareness to assist wild ones and to even bring wild numbers back up, although sea world are going to try do do everything to protect their reputation and the orcas business as at the end of the day they earn money through it.
    I believe that seaward as a corporation have a large interest in protecting their business and their profits.
    Although like any documentary you need to assess both sides of argument and somewhere (sometimes loosely) in the middle is the true account.
    You can’t argue that this film has done very well on orchestrating people’s emotions and guilt, you can’t hide away from the fact that all males fins have curled in captivity for some reason most likely through hormones/stress or unhappiness but these animals if sea world did not take them on after sealand. What would they be now and breeding for release back In the wild could be a fantastic scheme.
    Just maybe not as performing seals to the public in not the best unstimulating fish tanks perhaps…

    • As I noted in the post ed. Those comments are Sea Worlds response to the accusations of the film and I am not about to reword or paraphrase. No I don’t work for or have any affiliation with sea world. However this very old post keeps getting traffic so I am considering a revisit except I really haven’t found any new information. If you have have any disputing sea worlds claims I am very willing to address them. Assuming corporate deception on your part although attractive and a easy gimme really says nothing about the facts.

  32. Lori says:

    Thank you for an excellent, reasoned response to Blackfish. Doubly so because it comes from a skeptic not directly connected to the animal care field, rather than directly from Sea World or other animal caretakers- who are seen as biased liars engaged in a cover-up by many Blackfish fans. My daughter also works in the animal care field and has friends who work at Sea World. These are people she knew well in school, before they worked there, and are not likely to lie to her. After all, she’s one on the ‘inside’. She despises Blackfish for its misleading reports and the effects it is having on Sea World, because she knows the truth.

    As her mom I can assure you that she went into the field because she is passionate about animals and she cares greatly for their well-being. As is true for the vast majority- believe me, the pay sucks, so there is little other motivation for doing this difficult work.

    The depictions of whales being taken from the wild is horrifying and unacceptable. But few would disagree with that- and it’s why it is both illegal and not something zookeepers support. At least in this country; we have no jurisdiction over others. I too believe that animals should no longer be removed from their natural homes to entertain humans, unless they have been injured or have a condition that renders them unable to survive without human intervention.

    But it’s also clear to me that animals in captivity do serve an important role in educating humans about respecting them. I’m all for animal welfare activism- it is why most zoos and marine parks have come to the degree of quality care we have today. And I think there is still more to be done there. I have been to one or two small zoos, while visiting the Midwest, that make me shudder. No one is cruel but the size and design of the enclosures are very sad. Sea World does important work in conservation and rescue, but yes, they are a large for-profit corporation. The percentage of their profit dedicated to the cause could certainly be more. A problem our country is facing with most corporations today- too much money in the hands of too few. Marine and zoo habitats are far better than they once were but there is certainly room for improvement.

    But in many cases, animals removed from well known zoos for their ‘benefit’ and so they are not ‘used’ to entertain humans have fared worse in their new homes. There is the sad story of Keiko. There are elephants placed in ‘sanctuaries’. Animals released to the wild have often died in a very short time. Animals in sanctuaries have sickened and died also. As I write this, there is a wildfire threatening a sanctuary in California. One news report lauds a ‘small staff’ that remained on site, despite a local evacuation order, to care for ‘animals too big to move’.

    There are no animals too big to move, unless you’re in Jurassic Park. Zoos and Marine parks can and have moved elephants and whales. Not saying they should make a habit of it, just that it is possible. In fact, every zoo in California is required by law to have an emergency evacuation plan. Apparently though, this law does not apply to ‘sanctuaries’. Several zoos, especially those where some of the animals were taken from, have offered their assistance and equipment to evacuate these larger animals, but the sanctuary has refused. Why? Because they have a strict rule against ‘open contact’ (humans in contact with these animals without a barrier between them) and evacuating these animals would require it. Apparently human contact is so bad for the animals it exceeds the dangers of smoke inhalation or worse.

    So why should animals entertain humans in today’s world? In part for education. But also because it brings in something that is absolutely necessary for providing them quality care- money. Regulations reducing the amount of that money that lines corporate pockets and allocates even more to caring for the animals would be very much welcomed by actual animal caretakers (who might also appreciate a living wage while they’re at it- but only after the animals welfare is bettered). But if zoos and circuses are closed (BTW, Barnum and Bailey’s operates one of the most impressive and effective elephant sanctuary out there, which is likely to shut down at some point after they no longer have elephants in their shows. I don’t kid myself that corporations devote money to these causes for humanitarian reasons only- it has been pressure from people that brings this about), who will pay for this ‘better’ care? The government? History as well as current government money management shows they are unable to care properly for human children in need, let alone animals. Donations? Animal rescue organizations are always struggling to survive and continue caring for animals.

    My daughter had a part time job once with a wildlife education program and rescue. She routinely worked several hours a day more than she was paid for, and occasionally spent the night on site, also unpaid.

    This is clearly illegal. Why didn’t she report them, I asked? Ok, she needs the work. So why not report them after leaving the job? She did not. Neither, it seems, had any other former employee, as this has apparently been going on for many years. Why? Because, she said, if it ended up being shut down, what would happen to the animals? With every similar program stretched to the limit, there would be no place for them to go. And none of them want to see that happen.

    If this doesn’t tell you all you need to know about the motivations of most animal caretakers, I don’t know what will.

  33. KNZ says:

    I completely disagree that the benefit to the animals is worth the mental torture inflicted on the captive animals. No one has ever tried to keep a humpback whale in captivity, and yet they’re beloved all over the world and a huge, popular focus for conservation efforts. And, without keeping them in captivity, our conservation efforts are WORKING – humpback whale numbers have begun to recover. Humans are perfectly capable of valuing an animal without imprisoning representatives of it in tiny tanks to look at more closely.

  34. Joe swanson says:

    Wen people dont have anything to do so they go on blogs and comment stupid crap

  35. I was very interested to read this article on Blackfish, along with the responses of the many individuals who chose to make comment.

    Stephen Propatier rightly describes Blackfish as “compelling and disturbing”. However, more importantly, is the Blackfish portrayal accurate, or simply a biased anti-captivity response to the pro-captivity propaganda prevalent for so many years?

    In my opinion – and the opinion of the numerous European ex-dolphin trainers with whom I have worked – the Blackfish message is brutally true. Virtually all cetaceans, once stolen from the wild, suffer from deep psychological problems, to say nothing of a drastically shortened lifespan.

    In this supposed age of enlightenment, dolphinaria should be a thing of the past, which means that places like SeaWorld need to drastically change their policy if they wish to survive.

    So, the bottom line is: good movie or bad movie, Blackfish has galvanized the debate into the rights and wrongs of keeping captive cetaceans and, as co-author of the award-winning The Perfect Pair Dolphin Trilogy, for this alone I am truly thankful.

    • Lori says:

      No one is suggesting taking them from the wild, now or ever again. This should – and by law in this country does- only occur if the animal is ill or hurt and can not survive without human help.

  36. somebody says:

    I really think that Blackfish doesn’t try to “reveal the truth” as the trailer or those who have been shocked by the movie say. Judging both from your article and from others I would say that Blackfish tries to become overdramatic and full of suspense and provoking people’s animal-loving/human-hating instinct with things like “you would go crazy if you were living inside a buthtub”.

    Everyone realises that at least when it comes to killer whales (I don’t know about smaller dolphins which are easier to take care of) the conditions in which they live are defective, but this problem, like everything, has to be faced calmly and reasonably and there are things that Blackfish doesn’t seem to mention. SeaWorld constantly improves its facilities and it is funding its own conservation program, which cooperates with others.

    Most people who get butthurt over animals being hurt have the image of a money-counting capitalist in their mind, but SeaWorld actually only intents to bring people and marine wildlife in close contact. When someone says “those animals are being ridiculed so that people can have fun”, asides from the fact that people love these animals so they aren’t really ridiculed, what this person doesn’t realise is that animals do not expect anything besides from care and food. They aren’t being starved and whipped in training, they just have complications due to not being in their natural environment.

    I also really liked what you mentioned that animals don’t really seem to “go crazy” and “follow their killer instincts” as most people think. Before reading this article I had also noticed that in the majority of those “attacks” against humans the whales don’t really try to harm the humans. Such animals have a tendency to play with their prey until it dies, an example being cases of dolphins killing porpoises for no reason. When you are dragged underwater, where you can’t breathe, by a 5 ton animal that want’s to play with you, you are really its toy and it can break you like how a little child does to its toys. If those whales were really following their killer instincts and going crazy “for revenge”, as many people think, then they would just tear apart those trainers with no effort.

  37. Lyndsay says:

    I personally loved this article! It reflects my views on the film, as well as the views from my marine biologist and zoologist friends.

  38. kaeleigh spicer says:

    blackfish you all ned to stop attacking what sea world does. your supposed to help the people that are going to keep whales alive. insted you all go against the good guys. get over your selfes and your animal actives high horse. and let the great people of sea world do there job the way they need to to 1 keep the people and park running. let them be. and dont push the breeding its whats right get the pic. dont ruine whats right.

  39. Roger says:

    I have a homework question for you guys. Now, I now that this is not Yahoo Answers, but you guys seem very passionate about this subject. I have to write an essay about the similarities between how the orcas are treated in the movie Blackfish and the slavery of Blacks in the US. I know that this is stupid, but please help.

  40. Damien Pollard says:

    I can’t say I agree with all of what you have said, yes using the incorrect footage is of course intentionally misleading but the parts about collecting Tilikum and others, I in no way thought they were implying this was illegal. Immoral yes but not illegal. Unfortunately some parts are open to interpretation as most documentaries are. But overall I think it is not only an interesting investigative piece but necessary for the world to see the cruelty forced on intelligent animals for our moments pleasures. But I must commend your detailed research. Overall, thank you and I think we have to disagree.

    • I think that is reasonable position to take. I am very curious what will happen to these animals long term since they will be taken out of performing. Ultimately in the end I believe that they will probably have no place. Maybe their existence will be even poorer for the removal. We see this in primates and other intelligent animals when they are taken out of active performing. They are often placed in situations where they are safe don’t have to hunt or do any normal activities because they don’t know how. Performing is all they know and ultimately removing that stimulation results in a net loss for the individual animals. Since reconditioning to the wild has thus far failed with these animals. I feel were not really doing them any favors as individual or a species. Were just doing something that makes us feel warm and snuggly about ourselves with little regard for the impact on the animals. There are similar arguments to be made about zoo and other living animal exhibits. For example the elephants being removed from circus and zoos. For these animals that swim miles or walk miles a day in nature hunt and forage, living in a quiet well feed inactive environment is no improvement on their quality of life it is just a bigger cage with nothing to do.

  41. Sam says:

    Let me begin by saying that your article is very incorrect and what you’re telling people is not accurate information.

    (1) that SeaWorld continues to collect whales from the wild to this day.

    The documentary never says this. What it does say is that Tilikum has been used for breeding purposes and that’s how they’ve been able to obtain more orcas.

    (2) that Tilikum himself was collected by SeaWorld

    No, it does not. They clearly say that he was obtained from Sealand in Victoria.

    (3) that the collections done four decades ago were illegal.

    This is also false. They collected whales in Washington and then they went to New Zealand next. Never did they say they collected the whales illegally, they did not make it seem that way either.

    4) The film highlights two separations. In one instance, involving a whale named Takara, the film leaves you with the impression she was a calf when separated. In fact, Takara was 12 years old when she was moved. In the second, involving a whale named Kalina, the film misleadingly shows footage of a calf that is only days old. Kalina was moved when she was 4 ½ years old because she was disruptive to her mother and other whales.

    This I know nothing about and quite frankly don’t give a shit about either. The fact is that these majestic animals should not have to be bred in captivity or separated them from their mothers. The unethical way they even bred they animals makes me sick to my stomach. Management had trainers jerk off a 12,000 pound whale and collect sperm when he released. Incredible.

    “The film shows you footage that is not relevant to what is being said” It’s a fucking film. It’s supposed to have some sort of visualization. They can’t have film for everything they’re fucking talking about you idiot. You don’t think Shark Week on the discovery channel edits shit together all the time?

    5) The Film includes a SeaWorld video of a female trainer riding a killer whale, while one of the cast members, Samantha Berg, talks about her “experience” at Shamu Stadium. This segment misleadingly implies that Ms. Berg had relevant experience when, in fact, the video used in the film was shot 10 years after Ms. Berg had left SeaWorld. The trainer depicted in the video is not Ms. Berg but rather is a current SeaWorld employee. Of just the 3 years Ms. Berg spent working at SeaWorld, she spent only one year working with killer whales and she never conducted direct training with Tilikum.

    You’re a fucking idiot. They never say that’s her on the whale, she’s recounting her experience and they’re showing footage of something similar to give the viewer perspective.

    6) The film misleadingly cobbles together separate pieces of innocuous training and performance footage, synced with the actual 911 calls, to mislead the audience into believing it is viewing the actual footage of Ms. Brancheau swimming with Tilikum prior to the fatal incident. In fact, the opening sequence does not depict either Ms. Brancheau or Tilikum, or an attack of any kind. From the date Tilikum arrived at SeaWorld, no one was allowed to swim in the water with Tilikum, and Ms. Brancheau never did so.
    The film includes a recording of an EMT technician, subsequently proved to be mistaken, suggesting that Tilikum swallowed Ms. Brancheau’s arm during the incident. This is false.

    “The autopsy report said that Brancheau died from drowning and blunt force trauma. Her spinal cord was severed, and she had sustained fractures to her jawbone, ribs, and a cervical vertebra. Her scalp was completely torn off from her head, and her left arm had been ripped off near the shoulder, dislocation of left elbow and left knee” (directly from the autopsy report)

    The whale obviously did a lot of damage, even if the phone call was dramatized, they were trying to let their audience visualize how bad it really was. To my knowledge I don’t know if the call was dramatized or not but even so, the death of this woman is enough to justify what they’re trying to do.

    7) The Sealand of the Pacific incident was mischaracterized and several key facts were left out. Keltie Byrne, a 20-year-old marine biology student and competitive swimmer, slipped into the pool containing Tilikum, Haidi II and Nootka IV while working as a part-time Sealand trainer. The three orcas submerged her, dragging her around the pool and preventing her from surfacing. At one point she reached the side and tried to climb out but, as horrified visitors watched from the sidelines, the orcas pulled her screaming back into the pool. Other trainers responded to her screams, throwing her a life-ring, but the orcas kept her away from it. She surfaced three times screaming before drowning, and it was several hours before her body could be recovered from the pool. Both females were pregnant at the time, which was not known to the trainers. Which may have made them aggressive or more dangerous.

    All you’re doing is adding details to her death but the point is that she died because she fell in a tank of Killer Whales. Even if the whales were pregnant, they shouldn’t have been there to begin with.

    8) SeaWorld does not starve their animals to train them. They are fed the same amount every day performing or not and have a very precise diet. It is true that other parks have used starvation method.

    False. The documentary shows former employees from Sealand saying they would starve their animals. Not SeaWorld.

    Watch the documentary again since your memory fucking sucks.

    Let me just say that SeaWorld is SCUM. They’re a terrible fucking company and I hope their company is decimated soon. I will never in my life pay money to see animals be exploited and USED the way they are at SeaWorld. They have made BILLIONS and BILLIONS of dollars off of people like me and you, made a fortune they can sit on for the rest of their lives while their animals live like the homeless people on the streets.

    I don’t go against just SeaWorld, no. I’m against any company or corporation that exploits animals. ANIMALS SHOULD NOT BE HELD IN CAPTIVITY. ESPECIALLY NOT FOR MONEY OR PROFIT. IT’S ALWAYS ABOUT GREED AND IT’S ALWAYS AT THE EXPENSE OF SOMEONE ELSE OR SOMETHING ELSE. People only understand when it’s happening to them, or affects them.

    When the market crashed in 2008, while millions lost their 401k, homes, fucking everything, a few guys at the top became millionaires at the expense of hardworking people. Think about those millionaires who became rich as SeaWorld. The whales, well they’re the people who lost everything. If you were affected by the crash, you will understand how terrible it is to lose everything.

    Whales are huge! They should be in the open waters. They should be free just like us. If we stick you in basement your whole life, you wouldn’t be happy. Oh but because you aren’t constricted to just a basement, you can’t even begin to imagine what it would be like to actually go through something like that.

    Imagine you’re at work and someone grabs your genitals, thats called sexual harassment. At seaworld, its called breeding. Imagine someone coming to your home and taking your child from you. Imagine being separated from family to live with strangers. Imagine having to work everyday for hours, no breaks. Imagine dying at half of the age you were supposed to live. imagine your neck flopped over to the side, much like the killer whales in captivity, from stress. not saying thats why it flopped over that way but its an example. imagine being attacked by coworkers with their teeth, causing you to bleed or even worse causing your death.

    I think its crazy that SeaWorld has NOT decided to close down and release their whales to a sanctuary. OUT OF RESPECT TO THAT POOR WOMAN, they should have. But they didn’t. Why? Money. Greed. “We’ll get through this, this is nothing.”

    Dawn brancheau could’ve been your wife, niece, sister, cousin, mother.

    The fact that they denied any involvement in her death just goes to show HOW LOW THEY WERE WILLING TO GO TO COVER IT UP. They didn’t want to be blamed so they LIED. Imagine the company you work for, the company that you’ve worked your ass off for, the boss you’ve kissed ass to, the sacrifices you’ve made for, BLAME YOU for everything. Like you were nothing. Like you didn’t mean a thing.

    How heartbreaking.


    The people who work for this company are equally as terrible. “It’s not so bad” “I roll my eyes at the film” NOT ONLY ARE THE ANIMALS SUFFERING BUT PEOPLE HAVE DIED, AND YOURE WORKING THERE JUST TO MAKE YOUR BOSSES RICHER, THAT IS ALL. YOU WORK TO MAKE ANOTHER MAN RICHER. but we can’t expect much from you can we? You need a job to pay bills and they pay you.

    There will always be followers and leaders. When all is said and done, I hope Seaworld falls so hard, they never get back up ever again.

  42. Jack Clare says:

    i disagree with your premise about keeping captive orcas to make people care about them = more preservation effort.

    according to my personal ethical stance, if we can’t create the conditions for them to exist in the wild, then we should not preserve them artificially. doing so is an entirely humancentric model of preservation, centered on our desire to be able to see orcas, rather than a concern that they exist in the world at large.

    in my book, the most annoying pro-preservation argument is “your kids will never see (insert endangered animal here)”. who says we have a right to see them?

  43. Darby Farr says:

    I have a paper on the bias aspects of Blackfish and I would truly love if I could get your opinion on some things! If I could have an interview over phone or email I would be so so happy! Please let me know if you are available in the next week, this would help my paper tremendously

  44. Kim says:

    Correction – orcas do not weigh 22 tons – not even close. Males are usually around 6-7 tons, though they can get bigger.

    • Damian says:

      How can this debate exist
      It’s good captivity
      It’s bad
      It’s simple we would not have to educate are selfs about a dying becoming exstinct species
      If we had not have f****d it in the first place

  45. Charlotte Castle says:

    I totally.disagree with your opinion. While the doco certainly did push a certain agenda many of.your statements are incorrect. I thought the doco clearly explained how tilikum came to be captured and that Sea World bought him. I don’t think there was any denial that live wjale capture was legal in the past, and I don’t think legality was their argument – rather fhey were hoping to show how traumatic the capture was for calves and the pod.
    I thought the film made it very clear that Sea World no longer captured orca. On the contrary I felt they went to great lengths to explain Sea world’s breeding programme and the impact this was having by reducing genetic variability.

    As to the name, they state that this is a translation of a traditional native american term for the orca! I took it as being creative – would you prefer the film was called “Orca”?

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