Monday, 10 November 2014


blackfish is a documentary about killer whales (or orcas) in captivity, centring around one orca in particular called tilikum. we follow tilikum from his capture as a two-year-old in wild to his current home at seaworld orlando. the film uses archive footage and interviews with the various trainers who worked with tilikum to tell what is ultimately a modern-day horror story. except the out-of-control killer whale isn't the scariest part.

i don't want to give away too much in case you haven't seen it, but this is a fairly shocking depiction of what happens to wild animals in captivity, particularly those like orcas that seem to have some level of emotional intelligence. we hear about how tilikum was tortured so he would perform tricks, we hear about how his life in captivity contrasts with what his life would have been like in the ocean, and then we see the consequences of his imprisonment. i'm not that clued up on animal rights issues, but when you see this huge animal being tortured and locked away for it's whole life it seems pretty obvious something terrible will happen. the orcas in this film show so much behaviour that's similar to human behaviour it's hard not to imagine what would happen to a person's mind in that environment.

what tilikum does is pretty shocking, but what's more horrific is that the corporation that owns tilikum is in complete denial about how dangerous he is. after every single incident there's a hasty cover-up or reworking of the facts, even going so far as to blame one of the trainers that died for her own death. that's ultimately what this film is about; that to a faceless corporation (who refused to be interviewed for the documentary) money really is more important than lives, whether those lives are human or animal.

the filmakers do a great job with the story in blackfish, starting with the most horrific event and then working back to show us the events leading up to it. we also see other incidents and learn about how tilikum has been used to breed more orcas in captivity. it reminded me a lot of project nim, another film with similar themes. mostly what i've learnt from these films is that we shouldn't really be keeping animals locked up. it ends badly more often than we're told.

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