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

Pressure from the United Patriots Front Stops Mosque Plan
2016-04-28 20:10
Pressure from the United Patriots Front appears to have killed off a mosque development in Narre Warren North. The City of Casey council now looks likely to withhold planning approval for the development in a special meeting set for Tuesday night. A council report, to be considered by councillors on Tuesday, recommends that the approval be blocked. The mosque opponents’ cause has been helped by councillor ...
Police face questions over the influence of the Freemasons
2016-04-28 20:48
South Yorkshire Police today face questions over whether powerful 'secret society' the Freemasons held sway over the force at the time of Hillsborough. Families of victims say that officers who were Masons were promoted into powerful positions despite being ill-equipped, including match commander David Duckenfield. Duckenfield told the fresh inquests he had been a Freemason since 1975 and became head of his ...
England Bans its Own Flag to Avoid Offending Muslims
2016-04-27 2:23
St. George's Cross "racist" towards immigrants Government officials said their city was ‘too multicultural’ to celebrate St George’s Day, England’s version of the 4th of July. The council said that displaying the English flag may have been seen as “racist” towards immigrants.
Half of Western European men descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’
2016-04-27 2:09
Half of Western European men are descended from one Bronze Age ‘king’ who sired a dynasty of elite nobles which spread throughout Europe, a new study has shown. The monarch, who lived around 4,000 years ago, is likely to have been one of the earliest chieftains to take power in the continent. He was part of a new order which emerged in ...
"Local Residents" Are Filmed Stealing Dozens of Bottles of Water at London Marathon Stop
2016-04-25 23:10
Editor's Comment: "Local" residents? Why bother blurring their faces? We know who they are. ... London marathon runners were robbed of dozens of bottled waters when thieves raided a refreshment area armed with trolleys during today's race. Nearby residents - including parents with children - were captured on camera piling up crates of free water handed out by volunteers during the 26-mile event. Marathon ...
More News »