The poster for Blackfish is undeniably creepy. I'm a big wimp when it comes to anything gory or spooky, so
I was quite frankly a little nervous. Especially because I was going to watch it right before bedtime. Eek.
But I sucked it up and watched it, and shall be forever thankful that I did. Or thankful for awhile, anyway. Blackfish is indeed chilling and haunting, but it's also fascinating, heartbreaking, and beautifully constructed.
The documentary tells the story of Tillikum, an orca whale who made headlines a few years ago when he killed one of his trainers, Dawn Brancheau. The documentary covers the lives of orcas in captivity comprehensively, illustrating the disturbing and illegal practises of the marine park industry in capturing whales from the wild, sometimes resulting in the death of whales before they reach the sea parks. Soft-hearted? You won't enjoy hearing about the training methods these parks use and the conditions the whales are kept in. The inferior health and quality of life of whales in captivity are shown in sad, frustrating detail.
And Tillikum. The story of a whale taken from his family when he was two, kept in essentially a large swimming pool in Victoria, BC, and bullied by his fellow whales. We see injuries that he suffered at the hands of the other whales, who have turned aggressive due to frustration and unnatural socialization. We see his dorsal fin collapse, a condition symptomatic of poor health that occurs in almost all male orcas in captivity, and less than 1% of male orcas in the wild. Eager to please and loving towards his trainers, Tillikum seems to have lived in frustration, resulting in what some believe to be a psychosis, and ultimately causing him to turn fatally aggressive towards humans. This aggression is mirrored in many other whales in captivity, and Dawn Brancheau is not the other trainer to lose her life, or suffer from injury at the hand of a captive orca.
On the other hand, the film portrays the incredible intelligence of these beautiful whales. From one of the interviewees, we learn that orcas have a part of their brains that humans don't have. Most fascinating to me was the research that found that orcas not only communicate with a complex system of sounds, these sounds differ between difference families of whales. Meaning that orcas speak different languages. The pain of the subjects of the film is interspersed with absolutely beautiful, peaceful images of orcas in the wild, swimming with their families, free to live as they please. My god, what beautiful animals they are.
At the end of the film I was left with one thought. Mom and Dad, in retrospect, I'm really, really glad you never took me to Marineland.