Persuasive documentary Blackfish is a whale of a tale

by Mark Burger

Killers whales are the subject of filmmaker Gabriela Cowperthwaite’s absorbing documentary Blackfish , in which the tragic and much-publicized death of Orlando Sea World trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010 is cited as only the latest in a long line of similar tragedies, both at Sea World and at other marine parks.

For the most part, the scientists and trainers interviewed (some previously employed by Sea World) are mostly of the opinion that killer whales don’t belong in captivity. The risk is simply too great, both for humans and whales. Like the Brancheau case, there have been incidences of trainers attacked by killer whales, and indeed there have been incidences of whales turning on each other.

The film does not, however, vilify killer whales. Rather, it regards them with awe and respect, and not a little sympathy, either. Killer whales are highly intelligent and extremely powerful. And sometimes they’re lethally temperamental. In the case of Tilikum, the whale that killed Brancheau, more than once. The rare (and mostly unauthorized) whale footage shown throughout the film is starting and graphic — in more ways than one.

Although some courtroom transcripts are quoted in certain scenes, representatives of Sea World opted not to be interviewed for the documentary. Given its handling of some of these incidents, that’s hardly unexpected — and probably bad for business.