The “Blackfish” Killer
On Monday, March 30, the AUBG Documentary Club organized a screening of a documentary called “Blackfish”. An intense psychological thriller with a killer whale as its main character, “Blackfish” is a documentary about the consequences of keeping in captivity marine animals, which are meant to freely roam the ocean. The film premiered at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival on January 19, 2013.
“Blackfish” focuses on the story of Tilikum, a killer whale, currently held at sea-park “SeaWorld” in Orlando, Florida, that killed several people while in captivity. Along with the interview of ex-employees, sharing their experiences about working with the whale, director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite inserts footage to expose the terrible conditions the creature is forced to live in. The documentary also features shocking videos of tragic accidents that happened to former employees of “SeaWorld,” many of which ended deadly.
The movie starts with the story of a tragic accident that happened in 2010 at “SeaWorld Orlando,” when Tilikum lugged a trainer off under the water, consequently killing her. Then the storyline goes backwards in time to 1983, when Tilikum was captured off the coast of Iceland and was bought by “Sealand of the Pacific.” According to the interviews, the staff remembers him as very cooperative at the time, no signs of unstable behavior or aggression. During the day, he actively participated in train sessions or performances and never tried to harm his trainers in any way. But during the night, he was kept in the closed off metal tank, conjoint with the “SeaWorld” facilities, but too small for the orca, which is 22.5 feet long and weighs 12,000 pounds.
With the years passing, Tilikum turned from a peaceful sea creature into a killer. His frustration culminated on Feb. 20, 1991. Keltie Byrne, a 20-year-old marine biology student, working as part-time Sealand (the first owner of Tilikum) trainer, slipped into the pool containing Tilikum and two other female killer whales. The three orcas surrounded her, dragging her all over the pool, not letting go. That led to her death. Tilikum was moved to “SeaWorld” in January 1992. “Sealand of the Pacific” went out of business soon afterwards. Unfortunately, this would not be Tilikum’s only kill.
John Hargrove and Jeffrey Ventre, former “SeaWorld” trainers, both agree that it was not the only factor that contributed to the downfall of the creature. Tilikum was not the only whale living in the park. There were many others swimming in the same pool and a lot of times they did not get along.
“You’ve got animals from different cultural subsets that have been brought in from various parks,” Ventre said. “These are different nations. These aren’t just two different killer whales. These animals–they got different genes. They’ve got different languages.”
Overall, the story of one killer whale was a thought-provoking film that made people look differently not only at “SeaWorld,” but also at the business of sea parks in general. AUBG students were satisfied with the choice of the documentary. Nataliia Filimonova, a first-year student, said that she liked the screening. “There was a powerful message there, sometimes people are much more dangerous than the killer fish,” she said.