Saturday, March 22, 2014

Blackfish - Review

The only encounters I have had with Orcas (Killer Whales) have been through popular culture. I recall a few stunning scenes from David Attenborough documentaries, Free Willy (just the first one), and Happy Feet. From just these clips it is clear they are amazing, intelligent animals.

I recently watched the documentary Blackfish which looks at Orcas in captivity (centered on Tilikum, and the circumstances surrounding the death of trainer Dawn Brancheau at Sea World in 2010, and other incidents with him). The article which prompted Gabrielle Cowperthwaite to make the film is here

The letter Sea World penned in response to the film makes interesting (if not unsurprising) reading suggesting the film was sliced together to emotionally manipulate the audience to share its conclusion; and using footage which does not actually depict the events as they transpired. Sea World has also claimed that their training programs and their care of the whales is misrepresented. So far as I can tell the only public response to Sea World is this letter by Open Society). The film sadly mentions that Sea World declined requests to be interviewed during the making of the film. 

There are issues with animals in captivity. No enclosure, especially a tank, can replicate the habitat of the animal in the wild. It seems to be clear that some Orcas are not appropriately cared for in Aquariums (see this site for some examples). Highlighted in the book Death at Sea World. It is clear that while a bond of sorts is created with their trainers, at the core of it they are wild animals

One Californian Senator, Richard Bloom, is proposing to end animal captivity for the purposes of entertainment (read more). Some would like to see the older-captive animals released to fenced sea pens, which perhaps is the least-bad option, while trying to return the younger whales back to the Ocean.

I have a love-hate relationship with animal parks. They are great places to see animals I would not otherwise, and both Taronga Zoo and Sea World (US) play a role in animal conservation, rehabilitation, public education and research. Sea Wolrd (US) have published a range of papers about the animal). But you do wonder about the impact of captivity on the animals health and behaviour. Blackfish paints a concerning picture.

The Sea World letter finishes with a quote from naturalist Baba Dioum “In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we have been taught.” An encounter with any animal remains with us, perhaps prompting us to love and fight for the preservation of these animals. Even the footage I've seen in nature documentaries about Orcas and Great White Sharks have caused me to feel the need to fight for their preservation. I'd rather encounter one of these animals in the wild than an ocean park.

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