Like most college students, my Netflix account got a lot of mileage this winter break. After finishing the last season of “Parks and Recreation”, I was forced to move on to something else. I had been hearing a lot about the documentary “Blackfish” and decided to dive in (so sorry for the aquatic pun). I was simultaneously appalled and riveted by the film. The documentary tells the tale of the orca whale Tilikum, who was involved in the death of three individuals. The film researches the circumstances surrounding these deaths, but avoids persecuting the whale’s possible aggressive nature. “Blackfish” investigates whether keeping orca whales in captivity is humane, specifically at SeaWorld parks. The documentary suggests that keeping orcas in captivity, especially in the conditions that SeaWorld is responsible for, is a practice that is harmful to all parties involved.
The documentary originally aired on CNN in October and was released on Netflix on December 13. In a few days, 600,000 people viewed the film, earning a perfect five star rating and making it one of Netflix’s most viewed features. “Blackfish” has even received some attention from the Academy Awards committee. I highly recommend watching the film for yourself and forming your own opinions on the matter. Be forewarned that it is extremely challenging not to be completely enamored by the ‘murderous’ Tilikum and enraged at the capitalistic attitude of SeaWorld parks. Due to the popularity of this documentary, SeaWorld has taken a real financial hit. School groups are cancelling their trips left and right. In late December, the Orlando Business Journal posted a poll asking readers whether the documentary had affected their opinion of the theme park. 99% people responded no, that it had not affected their opinion. After some scrutiny, it was discovered that over 50% of the survey responses had been submitted from computers associated with SeaWorld. SeaWorld released a statement saying that they had not used a ‘bot’ to swing the poll in their favor, but many are skeptical.
SeaWorld is feeling the sting from the documentary. SeaWorld’s largest investor, the Blackstone Group, sold a million dollars worth of their shares in December. SeaWorld has been scrambling to fight back against the film, and a lot of their battle is being fought online. The park has been tweeting for weeks attempting to gain some footing against the powerful documentary.
SeaWorld released an extensive statement on their website calling “Blackfish” propaganda and listing many controversies discussed in the film. For example, SeaWorld speaks proudly about how they haven’t captured any killer whales from the wild in 35 years. Logically, this means they’ve been able to save lots of money by capitalizing off of the whales already kidnapped from the wild and bred strictly for the theme park.
I highly recommend seeing the documentary for yourself and forming your own opinion on the matter. Until then, keep your eyes out for the promoted tweets that SeaWorld has released, begging for their customers back. For the first time in a long time, a documentary has leverage against a huge corporation, and SeaWorld will do anything to keep their ten-ton show animals in their concrete prisons, paying the bills.
Gross, D. (2014, January 3). Did SeaWorld stuff ballots for ‘Blackfish’ poll? – CNN.com. Retrieved February 13, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/01/03/tech/web/sea-world-blackfish-poll/
Kuo, V., & Savadge, M. (2014, February 9). Months after ‘Blackfish’ airs, debate over orcas continues – CNN.com. Retrieved February 13, 2014, from http://www.cnn.com/2014/02/07/us/blackfish-wrap/
SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment – Error. (n.d.). Retrieved February 13, 2014, from http://seaworld.com/truth/truth-about-blackfish/