When we first watched Blackfish, we found it to be a compelling story, and we were incredibly saddened and disturbed by it, but from our experience in media (Jacob’s been in reality TV too), we also knew we can’t always take everything at face value.
We also found it surprising that the more we worked with other rescues and animal conservation programs, those who were directly working with animals strongly disagreed with the film. A couple years ago, we met Ian who at the time worked at Roos n More, our favorite local adventure in Vegas. Ian has been an animal care specialist, trainer, behaviorist, and rescuer for over 12 years. Since our blog often features zoos, rescues, animal conservation efforts, and other animal encounters, we thought you might also be interested in hearing his thoughts on this topic.
SeaWorld has certainly been in the media spotlight in recent years due in part to a popular movie called Blackfish, created by self-proclaimed animal rights activists to encourage people not to support the marine life park. However, I question the true motive of the filmmakers, as I believe their top goals revolve more around creating a sensationalized, exaggerated, one-sided film to tug at the heartstrings of viewers and ultimately increase their ratings, disregarding content integrity. The movie has already been dismissed as a true documentary by many film critics because it is, in fact, full of incorrect statements and misleading propaganda.
I’d like to touch on some of the key points I think were misrepresented in the movie, and I’d also love to share a different perspective and many of the positive things I know about the marine park.
Wild Animal Catching Has Been Illegal in the US Since 1972
Contrary to what the film wants you to think, in the US as well as Canada, Australia, UK, and parts of Europe, we actually don’t believe in wild catching marine mammals. We have the US Marine Mammal Protection Act of 1972 which makes wild catching and keeping marine mammals illegal and impossible. SeaWorld, as well as all dolphin parks in the U.S., do not catch cetaceans (dolphins, whales, porpoises) in the wild. The last time this occurred in our country was over 40 years ago! This means the vast majority of marine mammals (with the exception of California sea lions and Pacific harbor seals, which are very frequently rescued from the wild as injured orphans who are unfit for survival) living under human care are in fact born in captivity. What the industry did 40+ years doesn’t occur in modern day time in this country or the above-mentioned regions. If the Blackfish creators truly cared about the thousands of suffering marine mammals, they could be targeting the places like the facilities in Asia that still capture and kill these species to this day!
Wild Mammals in Captivity Have No Chance of Successfully Reintegrating
In the eyes of the film, there is only one acceptable conclusion: SeaWorld is evil and we need to shut this facility down and release all of the killer whales and other marine mammals. What a lot of people really don’t realize is that releasing the killer whales, as well as almost every species of wild mammal that has been living in captivity the majority or all of his or her life, is completely illogical and irresponsible, and experienced marine mammal experts agree. Remember Free Willy/Keiko? He was “released to be free in the wild,” and suffered a miserable death of starvation and pneumonia, in addition to extreme stress as he didn’t understand why he was abandoned and dumped in the ocean as a solitary animal. This happened because of “animal rights activists” despite marine mammal experts around the world telling them the whale was going to suffer and die, as he had no chance of successfully reintegrating.
Naomi, the “biologist/expert” in the movie, is an extremist in disguise. Three of the killer whale trainers in the film had very little experience and/or very outdated experience (imagine 2 decades ago to now – programs changed drastically, as in most fields) with the whales and one never worked with whales and was fired for mistreatment of otters. These are not credible sources, but the film tricks the naive public into thinking they are. There is even one trainer in the film, Samantha, who talks about her first time getting in the water with killer whales, even though she never actually did, while they show a video of a different person/current trainer swimming with a whale. Blatant lies for false credibility. Two of the former trainers who had very little experience working with the killer whales critiqued Dawn’s (a trainer who was killed by a whale) last training session and inaccurately blamed her for mistakes that never occurred, ultimately blaming her for her own death in an ignorant and distasteful manner.
When the film’s Director, Gabriela Cowperthwaite found out that former SeaWorld trainer Bridgette Pirtle, who she hired to participate in the film, would be publicly speaking out about the misleading and false statements, edited scenes, and blatant lies in the film, Gabriela called Bridgette and told her to, “please wait until after award season to criticize Blackfish.” This director seemingly never really cared about the animals or telling the truth about the trainer who died; she only cared about manipulating the scenes and the content in the movie to produce an emotionally driven film, increasing her ratings/sales and “success” as a director.
I’ve never been a killer whale trainer, and while I’ve worked as an animal care specialist, trainer, behaviorist, rescuer for over 12 years, I’ve never worked for SeaWorld myself. I have seen killer whales at all 5 of the US animal parks that house the species, and several international facilities. I have also been lucky enough to see killer whales in the wild in Oregon, Washington, British Colombia and many, many times while living in Alaska four different summers.
Most people don’t have the opportunity to experience these magnificent animals in the ocean, and the education and research obtained from the captive populations is invaluable for the species as a whole. I understand the complex behaviors and needs of this species; and I’ve witnessed first hand the highest quality of animal care these whales receive at the three SeaWorld parks in San Diego, San Antonio, and Orlando. Killer whales and all animals at SeaWorld receive world-class animal care that trumps the majority of top zoos, aquariums, wildlife sanctuaries in the entire country.
SeaWorld and its team of the world’s top marine mammal scientists, veterinarians, biologists and care specialists, have rescued, rehabilitated and released THOUSANDS of marine animals, on their own dime! Of course, the one-sided Blackfish wouldn’t tell you that, because it wouldn’t make their movie as powerful, contradicting their misleading accusations that SeaWorld doesn’t care about animals.
I just want other animal lovers to know that the basis of this movie accusing SeaWorld of not caring for animals is simply is not true! The movie has really been nothing more than propaganda that unfortunately was persuasive enough to influence a lot of people who don’t know better. It simply was about picking a popular hot topic and sensationalizing it to attempt to make a profit over the death of an amazing person who dedicated her life and risked herself to provide the best possible care for the animals she worked with.
There are so many serious animal issues all around the world that could have been exposed in an honest documentary if they were truly concerned with helping animals, but they wouldn’t have had as huge of a following.
As Ken Ramirez summarizes in his statement against the film: “Ultimately, it all comes down to one basic principle: Nobody cares more about the well-being and welfare of animals than those of us entrusted with their care.” Take a look at the above photo of me with my rescued Amazon river dolphin friend Huayrurin and tell me what is stated here is not highly apparent. I am not unique. Every marine mammal trainer and zoological professional I’ve met in our incredible industry shares the same passion and dedication, and all of us work with our animals placing their welfare as the highest priority! I am so proud to be a part of this career field where we get to work hands-on with amazing species while educating the public about them and their environments.
Thanks so much Ian for sharing your thoughts!
Like we mentioned before, we encourage you to take everything with a grain of salt (even anything you read from our blog since they are written through the lens of our experiences). We’re not writing this to sway you completely from one direction to the other, but to provide you another perspective and encourage you to do your own research before reaching a conclusion. We’d love to start a discussion, but please know that any disrespectful comments will be removed.
What are your thoughts? Are you team SeaWorld or team Blackfish? Do you support zoos and aquariums and the education and research they do for conservation? Why or why not?