Updated 12 August 2014

SeaWorld vs Blackfish

"Blackfish", the controversial documentary about keeping killer whales captive for our amusement, premieres in South Africa.

“If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic?” 

The above is a quote from Blackfish, the much-lauded documentary that exposes the risks and cruelties of using captive wild animals -- killer whales in this case -- as entertainment.

The main narrative of Blackfish is the terrifying, tragic tale of Tilikum, the largest, and deadliest, orca ever kept in captivity.

Tilikum, captured as a young whale in 1983, has spent his life performing for the crowds at SeaWorld, the multi-billion dollar chain of sea parks in the United States.

Read: Protesters collide with whalers

Blackfish juxtaposes moving footage of killer whales in the wild with deeply disturbing clips of these highly intelligent, majestic creatures being captured and manipulated, and, in several cases -- Tillikum's most disastrously -- eventually turning on their keepers after years of patently unnatural confinement.

The documentary also owes its potency to the emotionally-charged testimony from several ex-SeaWorld trainers and whale experts.

It's as gripping as a thriller but tough, even heartbreaking, to watch. (Leave the kids at home for this one.)

Nonetheless, it's unmissable for anyone who cares even vaguely about our fellow sentient creatures and how we treat them. Blackfish is rapidly earning a reputation as one of the most influential films about human-animal relationships ever made.

Watch: Blackfish official trailer:

Blackfish makes waves for SeaWorld

SeaWorld Entertainment refused to be interviewed for Blackfish and claims that the film is misleading about the company's practices.

Despite the negative impact Blackfish has had on public perception, SeaWorld reported only a slight temporary dip in attendance and revenue, which it put down to causes other than fallout from the film.

SeaWorld continues to be a highly lucrative venture, expecting revenue of about $1.5 billion (R16 billion) in 2014.

However, the sea park chain will soon be fighting the adoption of a bill proposed by State Assemblyman Richard Bloom to ban keeping and breeding orcas for entertainment purposes in California, and to allow current performing whales to retire.

Blackfish premieres in South Africa along with a crop of other compelling environment-focused films at the Cape Town Eco Film Festival (27-31 March 2014). Representatives from the Two Oceans Aquarium will participate in an informal audience discussion after the screening.

Part of the proceeds from ticket sales go to local tree-planting organisation Greenpop, for reforestation projects in South Africa and Zambia.

Read more:
Why whales beach themselves
Safer seismic tests kinder to whales

Michael, Martinez, March 2014.CNN. "California bill would ban orca shows at SeaWorld"

Olivia Rose-Innes is Health24’s EnviroHealth Editor. Read more of her columns and articles or post a question to her expert forum.


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