Documentary Sheds Light on Captivity Debate
The poster for "Blackfish." Photo courtesy of

Documentary Sheds Light on Captivity Debate

A group of university students gathered in the Dreyfus University Center theater on Oct. 28 for a viewing and discussion of the documentary “Blackfish.”

The documentary follows the life of Orca whale Tilikum after being placed in captivity. He started at a small park in Canada and was brought to SeaWorld in Orlando, Fla. Three deaths have been attributed to Tilikum since his inception to captivity. Two were trainers who had prior interaction with Tilikum, and the third was a trespasser at SeaWorld.

The movie is a narrative account of those instances, as well as commentary from former trainers, neuroscientists and marine biologists. SeaWorld has since released a statement about the documentary calling it distorted and propagandist.

Clearly, “Blackfish” was produced with anti-captivity sentiment but that does not eliminate any bias SeaWorld may have. While “Blackfish” producers want to see whales out of captivity, a whale-less SeaWorld could lose profit.

Whale sentience is a well-documented phenomenon and it was not the point of contention from SeaWorld. The controversial nature of this documentary stems from claims that captivity leads to psychosis.

Psychosis means losing touch with reality, and animal rights proponents aim to connect the increased aggression in captive whales to the disparity between captive habitats and natural migratory lifestyles.

SeaWorld provides veterinary care, but segments of the film showed SeaWorld providing misleading or entirely false facts to their employees and visitors pertaining to captive whales.

“The documentary allows the audience to see through the eyes of the orca,” said senior international studies major Cailie Kafura. “Life on the other side of the glass is far from entertainment”

Blackfish relies on emotional and intuitive responses. SeaWorlds’ rebuttal calls for objective science on a non-objective issue. Neither side is free of bias, leaving the responsibility to the viewer to sift through facts and opinions to make decisions.


Harley Fredriksen
Environment Editor

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