Ever since I can remember I have been mesmerised by water, what goes on beneath it and the creatures which inhabit this other world. Believe it or not Sharks did it for me originally and although I have absolutely no inclination to catch my favourite of the species, the Great White, it was this fascination which lead me to become an angler. But this post is not about some strange new fish, or a story about the one that got away, it’s about a programme which aired last night on BBC4. Blackfish.
Having watched it I found it difficult to get to sleep and this morning my head was so full of stuff that the only outlet I could think to use was my blog. So my apologies to those who prefer me to write about fishing; I know I haven’t had a lot to say recently, but I have to say this.
Blackfish is a kind of docufilm put together by a production company (dogwoof) who have made a name for themselves exposing subject matter that many possibly ignore because of the controversy it will cause. Especially when it means butting heads with powerful money making machines such as Seaworld in Orlando, Florida.
The rather sinister title alludes not to a fish in fact, but to killer whales imprisoned for life, for the purpose of human entertainment. I took a look at the Seaworld site and the “majestic” (their words, not mine) Killer Whales to which they refer are listed under a heading of “Attractions”. It is even possible to book a dinner date with the most famous whale of them all, Shamu. Just add to cart, pay up the 29 bucks, sit back and enjoy. Isn’t that just plain wrong?
You can possibly tell that I am not a fan and I am going to admit that Zoos and circuses don’t do it for me either; so maybe I am biased? Once my wife booked a certain South Devon Zoo so that we could share a day with the kids and I could not get out fast enough. I will also never visit again and never encourage my children to gawk at animals kept in captivity.
I sincerely hope that they would go bonkers when they first clap eyes on a Killer Whale, but one that is in the wild, not trained like a domestic dog to perform tricks for their pleasure. Blackfish goes into detail about the training which these killer whales receive but the main subject is a huge male known as Tilikum, a massive Orca weighing 12,000lbs. Tilikum is a real life killer.
Three people have lost their lives due to attacks by Tilikum but far from portraying this magnificent animal as a cold blooded murderer, the dogwoof production exposes the cruel way in which this breath taking animal was removed from thousands of square miles of ocean to spend the rest of its days in a glorified swimming pool. I am surprised that only three people have met their end.
The programme is designed to shock and there are many emotional interviews, mainly with ex Seaworld trainers and those who actually took whales such as Tilikum from their natural habitat. Much of the dialogue slams SeaWorld for cover ups regarding other attacks and in one unbelievable never seen before sequence, a trainer is subjected to a 30 minute ordeal while a whale plays with him like a toy, dragging the guy down to 30ft by hanging on to his leg. Incredibly he survived.
I don’t mean to be offensive towards the trainers and certainly not to those who have tragically lost their lives, but Blackfish tells their side of the story and shows that often these were young minds, caught up in the glamour of working for SeaWorld and controlled by the fat cats at the top of it all. Nobody can blame them for that and the very real pain etched on their matured faces proves beyond doubt that they now know that what they were doing was inherently wrong. Meanwhile SeaWorld who refused to be interviewed for the documentary don’t seem to show the same regret. In fact they blame the trainers for their own deaths, saying that they “made mistakes”. Possibly their mistake was the naivety to assume that they could share the water with such an incredibly powerful animal and tame it?
The various marine experts that appear on camera believe that whales held in captivity are a force to be reckoned with; highlighting research that even suggests the ordeal whales such as Tillikum are subjected to manifests itself as a kind of psychosis. Further research has uncovered how emotionally attached Killer Whales become within their family units and scientific evidence that discovered a part of the brain which we don’t even have. Is it really that surprising that there have been over 70 reported attacks on humans by whales held in captivity? We learn there are no such attacks reported in the wild.
I am no film critic and probably not doing a very good job of trying to view the subject from both sides, but once again I will revisit a paragraph from above. How can it be right to remove these incredible Killer Whales from thousands of square miles of ocean to spend the rest of their days in a glorified swimming pool? Surely common sense says a big fat NO! Sadly money often seems to brush common sense and morals aside which is most likely why Tillikum was not destroyed after these attacks. Instead, right now, he is living out his life in what is little more than a holding cell exposed only to the public for a short time as a grand finale. But the core reason that SeaWorld have an interest in Tilikum is his ability to produce more captive killer whales, worth millions of dollars. Look deep into his eyes and all I can see is sadness and desperation.
Dogwoof make films that sensationalise and this gets people talking. Their use of attack footage, coupled with morbid background music and a trailer which is straight out of a horror movie is designed to shock. But it also educates because until last night I had no idea that this was going on. It has certainly captured the public’s imagination as right now Blackfish is sitting in the number one spot on iTunes as the top documentary. At which point I guess I have to ask myself, “What I can do?” Well I have written a few words on the subject here which will hopefully inspire a few readers to take a look at the film. That’s not going to directly save this amazing creature but will the Free Tilly Now campaign? I will leave you to decide.