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This week we review Blackfish, a documentary focused on the treatment of orcas in institutions such as SeaWorld. This documentary is directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite. This film is currently available on Netflix Watch Instantly.

Dobscha:

Blackfish has almost successfully disguised itself as a nature documentary. The movie is filled with animal lover interviews, occasionally gorgeous footage of orcas in the wild and rather desperate pleas for more humane conditions at marine parks. However, the documentary is merely a lengthy accusation of corporate negligence, corruption and crime in the name of entertainment. Blackfish is centered around a 2010 tragedy in which a captive, performance orca at SeaWorld fatally attacked an experienced trainer. The film uncovers a few murky details surrounding this incident and overwhelms viewers with countless similar occurrences that have taken place throughout the killer-whale-exploiting world. We witness some shocking footage of these attacks and watch the victim’s colleagues cry over her death and over animal injustice. The content is shocking, but the film is poorly arranged. The repetitive talking-head interviews should be boring, but the monotony is erratically interrupted by disturbingly engaging horror stories. The film features a lot of emotion and a lack of reputable information. Aside from one interviewee labeled “Whale Researcher” and a woman with the vague subtitle “Neuroscientist,” there is little science in the film. The trainers complain that SeaWorld failed to teach them about the natural history of orcas, but Blackfish hardly does any better. We hear that killer whales are highly emotive and intelligent; if only someone would cite a university study! The film raises more questions than it answers, and I left with an uncomfortable sense that I had sat through a garish SeaWorld performance—except instead of watching the whales do spectacular jumps and dives, I was witnessing them drag people to the bottom of a pool.

Swenson:

It’s our first documentary review! Having seen The Cove (a phenomenal documentary about the killing of dolphins in Japan), I went into Blackfish with tempered expectations, purely because of how much The Cove stuck with me. I was not sure if this documentary would simply re-hash what I had already learned and seen, or if it would add something to this debate. While I did not find Blackfish as amazing as The Cove, I do think that it provides yet another step in the right direction for these issues.

Blackfish begins with an emergency phone call that ends with someone saying, “A whale ate one of the trainers.” This is a shocking beginning to a movie that holds back very little in terms of footage. Throughout the documentary is footage of the relationships between trainers and orcas at institutions like SeaWorld. While many of these scenes showcase the perceived genuine relationships between the orcas and their trainers, others reveal real, violent events. I found myself with my fingers pressing into my forehead as I was anticipating what thing could go wrong next. The documentary is split up into different segments focusing on disturbing events that have happened between trainers and orcas. In some cases, the trainers escaped virtually unharmed, while other situations led to horrible deaths. These segments are complemented by interviews with several former SeaWorld trainers as well as information regarding the captivity of these orcas. Overall, this combines to create a necessary portrayal of the horrors associated with these water parks. Every day, parents and their kids go watch shows that highlight how amazing these animals are, yet they are taken away from their natural habitats and forced to perform. This is not a documentary that I believe you have to see immediately, but if you have an hour and a half to spare, it should definitely be something you consider.

More like Blackfish: The Cove, “Zoochosis” and Free Willy