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Thrilling Documentary Puts SeaWorld in Deep Water

Ria Parab, Co-Managing Editor

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Blackfish, a thrilling documentary and an official selection of the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, will air tonight on CNN at 9 p.m. ET/PT.

Directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite, Blackfish tells the story of why Tilikum, the SeaWorld orca who is responsible for killing 3 people, became infamous for attacking trainer Dawn Brancheau in February of 2010. Having heard only positive reviews, I decided to experience the film for myself a few months ago– I managed to catch a screening in San Francisco, and as I sat amongst the fifteen other people in a tiny projector room, I realized that Blackfish told a story that went much deeper than just coverage of a singular tragic incident.

Blackfish offers an in-detail analysis of the events that led up to the day Tilikum lost it, and dragged Brancheau to the bottom of Shamu Stadium’s tank. In fact, it takes us back to 1983, when Tilikum was captured off the coast of Iceland. Footage shows how the young killer whales were snatched away from their families only to be placed in compact tanks the size of swimming pools covered by tarp as they waited to be fed by trainers.

Our friends at SeaWorld received Tilikum (Tilly) in 1992. Two kills later, Brancheau’s death in 2010 was the catalyst of it all. The film included insightful interviews with former SeaWorld trainers who had worked with Tilikum, as well as witnesses to the attacks. The media reported the attack as Brancheau’s fault, but former trainers and colleagues of her’s were outraged by the blame she received. Although SeaWorld claimed that Brancheau had drowned, the truth was that she had been brutally attacked by a 12,000 pound killer whale, and SeaWorld hasn’t been held accountable for a majority of the mistakes they could’ve and should’ve prevented.

Much of the film “uncovered,” all the secrets that SeaWorld, a franchise valued at nearly $2.5 billion, has kept quiet about for so long. Apart from targeting SeaWorld’s mistreatment of its wildlife, the park is also put in the hot seat for providing false information to its customers in multiple instances, with footage and personal accounts as ample evidence.

What Blackfish accomplishes, is what any good documentary manages to do: It’s a slap in the face, and a wake-up call. Personally, I was shocked into wondering how things have carried on like this for so long. With the momentum that the film has gained recently, I wouldn’t be surprised if parks like SeaWorld aren’t around in the long run. With stellar reviews from the San Francisco Chronicle, New York Times as well as a whopping 98% Rotten Tomatoes Rating, Blackfish is bound to become an Oscar contender, and with the publicity, will hopefully come change.

Blackfish exposes the truth behind the PR ploys of SeaWorld and its cousin theme parks. The sheer horror of what these marine animals are forced to endure throughout their lifetime in captivity is enough to make you ditch the Shamu stuffed toys, and raise up a “Free Tilly,” sign instead.

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Thrilling Documentary Puts SeaWorld in Deep Water