Culture: Film

Beige Recommends: Blackfish

Blackfish Dogwoof Documentary

This emotionally gut-wrenching documentary tells the story of Tilikum, a killer whale who killed several people while kept in captivity.

Killer whales are found in all oceans, from the Arctic to the Antarctic, clocking up thousands of sea miles.

These beautiful creatures, also known as orcas, with distinctive black and white markings are the largest member of the dolphin family. They have dorsal fins which are up to two metres in height.

They are highly intelligent, with the second-heaviest brain among marine mammals. Blackfish puts you through the emotional wringer as it focuses on killer whales’ cruel treatment in captivity. It’s a shame, embarrassing even, that these highly evolved creatures are made to jump through hoops, nod and carry bikini-clad ladies on their backs.

So it’s little wonder that killer whales have turned on their trainers, and captive Orca are reported to have made nearly two dozen attacks on humans since the 1970s, some of which have been fatal.

Interestingly, there is not a single instance of a human fatality by a killer whale in the wild.

In the film, we hear from former trainers of killer whales and also those who knew Dawn Brancheau, an experienced SeaWorld trainer, who was killed by Tilikum, an Orca who had previously attacked several people.

Brancheau’s six-page autopsy report revealed that Brancheau’s left arm and part of her scalp was ripped off.

What’s most striking from the film is the testimony of trainers, who at first genuinely believed that they were helping the killer whales, and also erroneously saw the animals as benign, harmless creatures.

There are also incredibly heart-breaking moments, such as when a mother killer whale cries out for her calf who has been captured and taken off to a zoo. Even the man responsible for the seizure of the baby Orca is overcome with remorse and sobs as he describes the worst thing he has ever done in his life.

Director-producer Gabriela Cowperthwaite has created a compelling documentary asking questions as to why the multi-billion dollar sea-park industry puts its staff at risk, allowing them to ride on the backs of killer whales known to have attacked humans previously. Or indeed keeping these highly social mammals in what amounts to solitary confinement and kept in tiny pools.

It’s only when you see the footage of killer whales attacking and grabbing their trainers, dragging them down to the bottom of the pool, that you realise these are incredibly powerful, dangerous creatures with a mind of their own.

Blackfish opens in UK cinemas 26 July 2013.

Words: Fiona Keating

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