The killer in SeaWorld’s midst
2013-07-26 0:00

By Tara Brady | The Irish Times

Captivating documentary ‘Blackfish’ uses the death of a trainer at the Florida attraction to examine the wisdom of keeping marine predators in captivity


Blackfish: “I never imagined I’d end up questioning SeaWorld’s practices and entire belief system,” says filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite

In 2010, Dawn Brancheau, an experienced 40-year-old trainer at Florida’s SeaWorld, was killed by the Orlando theme park’s star attraction, a 12,000lb bull orca named Tilikum. SeaWorld officials called it an accident and were keen to identify Dawn’s ponytail – a potential plaything for a killer whale, it was claimed – as a contributing factor.

The tragedy, which unfolded in front of visitors just after a performance of the park’s signature Dine with Shamu show, provides a springboard for director Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s gripping new investigative documentary, Blackfish.

“I heard about the story when it was in the news and thought it was so tragic,” recalls the filmmaker. “I couldn’t imagine how a beloved trainer could end up being killed by a highly intelligent animal that she loved and who presumably loved her. That was my image of SeaWorld. I thought it was a happy place where killer whales were happy and would never be driven to kill.”



As soon as she started asking questions, Cowperthwaite, who had no previous history of animal activism and had no ambition to make an advocacy film, found herself shocked by what lay behind the glitzy theme-park facade.

“I’m a documentary filmmaker,” she says, “but I’m also a mom who took her kids to SeaWorld. I never imagined I’d end up making this kind of controversial film. I never imagined I’d end up questioning SeaWorld’s practices and entire belief system.”

Brancheau’s death, as the award-winning Blackfish reveals, was not an isolated occurrence. To date, Tilikum has been involved in the deaths of three people. The first incident dates back to 1991 when Tilikum and two female whales mauled and pulled a young trainer named Keltie Byrne to her death. Following Keltie’s death, Tilikum was moved to SeaWorld, Orlando, where, seven years later, the animal was involved in a second fatality. In July 1999, SeaWorld employees found the body of Daniel P Dukes (27) draped across Tilikum’s back, with multiple wounds.

SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, a publicly traded company since last year, has been quick to dismiss claims that its trainers were not “adequately informed about Tilikum”. Blackfish, though, presents various testimonies from former employees to the contrary.

“SeaWorld is claiming now that every trainer gets the quote-unquote ‘Tilly talk’ – that they explain that you do not want to be in the water with this animal; that the outcome is uncertain,” says Cowperthwaite. “However, if they had been open about the details of the previous cases, people would understand that they don’t even have to be in the water to be in danger. Tilikum has the ability to grab a trainer and pull them in much like he did with Dawn.”

Loving marine animals

Each of the SeaWorld trainers tells a similar story about their time at the park: they take the job at SeaWorld because they love marine animals, then, ultimately, they leave the job at SeaWorld because they love marine animals.

[...]

Read the full article at: irishtimes.com




Related Articles
Can Dolphins Really Heal the Sick, Or is Their Captivity Abuse?
Animals Are Moral Creatures, Scientist Argues
Death rituals in the animal kingdom


Latest News from our Front Page

Estonia must accept African & Middle Eastern immigrants says politician
2015-05-22 3:06
Kalle Laanet, an Estonian politician, spoke at the International Migration Forum held in Tallinn. He told the audience that the question is not: Should Estonia take the African and the Middle Eastern immigrants (who illegally entered Southern Europe)? He said the question is: How will Estonia take the immigrants? “Today the issue is not whether Estonia should receive the refugees coming to ...
Rescuing Palmyra: History's lesson in how to save artefacts
2015-05-21 22:49
With Islamic State militants now inside the historic town of Palmyra in Syria, the question, inevitably, is whether they will destroy the ancient ruins. As IS continues to sweep through parts of Iraq and Syria, damage to centuries-old artefacts - because IS sees statues and shrines as idolatrous - is plentiful. But history has shown that, when culturally important sites are under ...
Saudi Arabia Wants to Convert Sweden to Islam
2015-05-21 20:38
Aje Carlbom is an Associate Professor of Social Anthropology, University of Malmö Since the 1970s, Saudi Arabia has actively spread its interpretation of Islam, Wahhabism or Salafism, worldwide. It is the most literal version of Islam and affects many young Muslims, who regard society as a place to Islamize, writes social anthropologist Aje Carlbom. Sweden's Foreign Minister Margot Wallström was ...
Professor: If You Read To Your Kids, You're 'Unfairly Disadvantaging' Others
2015-05-21 18:22
Bedtime-story privilege? According to a professor at the University of Warwick in England, parents who read to their kids should be thinking about how they're "unfairly disadvantaging other people's children" by doing so. In an interview with ABC Radio last week, philosopher and professor Adam Swift said that since "bedtime stories activities . . . do indeed foster and produce . . ...
If You Read About Conspiracies You're Just Like Osama Bin Laden Apparently
2015-05-21 3:46
At its heart, the story of Osama bin Laden's time at his house in Abbottabad is surreal. The American image of bin Laden - leering at us from under his head wrap as he plots and schemes - is undermined by the mundane realities of his life. The guy was responsible for murdering thousands of Americans and orchestrating a global ...
More News »