The marine life, especially marine mammals, or in other words, whales, always fascinated me. I always thought the Orcas were so fascinating and beautiful. Like some of the trainers featured in Blackfish, I was one of those kids who grew up watching those BBC and National Geographic documentaries about the wild life. One of my dreams was to watch these whales. I always imagined watching them in the open water from a far. Not in tanks. I don’t know if it was because it just simply looked more beautiful, because of those National Geographic images. While I knew of the existence of the whales in tanks, I obviously had watched Free Willy, I looked at them there and although they still were simply stunning, I never really thought of going to one of those things because it never felt right.
I grew up really loving these animals but also studying them, so unlike many others who are watching this film, I already had a history with these animals, I’m aware of their characteristics, about their life in the wild. Like I know they’re not necessarily killer whales, this term exists because they’re simply too powerful animals, and if they decide to hunt in group, to which they often do, they can take a twenty meter blue whale. But this is the wild. They’re animals who eat other animals, from fish to seals and occasionally pelicans and such. It’s not like a shark, which we can say they’re killer sharks, obviously; they do attack people and kill. Killer whales are not driven by human blood. So one of the things that irritates me the most while watching this film is the Sea World institution and as we learn, their attempt and continuously misguiding idea of their educational role models. Because they’re the most inaccurate you could ever heard. They tell lies. They talk about killer whales as if they were talking about Palestine and saying it’s a peaceful country – it is how inaccurate they sound.
Well this one even looks funny...or not:
Blackfish takes the recent case of the tragedy that occurred in 2010 when one of the most skilled and experienced trainers was attacked to death by one of the whales, but this whale was no other than the infamous Tilikum, probably the most popular whale in captivity after Keiko, the Free Willy whale, and Kathy, one of the Flippers from Flipper. From here, the history is gradually presented to us, of this accident that happens more often than anyone thinks. The story goes back from the days when they would capture whales in US territories until it was prohibited and they moved, per say, to Iceland, where they were welcomed because they would be doing a favor to the fishermen. We should go back and understand how this started. A man from Seattle, with obvious sea history, he was also part of the fishing for whales, owned a small aquarium, he had a tank and decided to have one of this whales as a pet. This man, used these words, “They of course were extremely dangerous and reportedly ate people, of course no one ever reported that after they’ve been eaten but…I began my quest for capturing a killer whale for public display and also as a personal pet.” Namu didn’t last long and died a year later but people watched this whale and were taken over and this is how the show began. One time, when this man was cutting the net to do something, he made a sound and the orca made the same sound. He then realized she was trying to communicate with him and he suddenly became aware of the fact that these whales had some sort of cognition. But it was too late. He was ignorant. And the people after him continued to be ignorant. Obviously, what we know today is much more. But still. Namu was still an animal in an awfully small place for his body size.
Blackfish shows us perspectives mainly from the trainers’ point of views, which are essential, being that the film takes a trainer’s tragedy to go through the whole, then whale researchers and even a neuroscientist. Then, of course, shows us the ridicule that the institutions of Sea World and alike bring to their programs, basically a fuck load of lies with the solemn purpose of selling and making money. The film backs up this notion I think quite appropriately and accurately. I think it’s clearly very well sustained through the narrative, the footage they choose for different moments, the timings are good and just shows this wrong universe. Even though anyone was representing SeaWorld, any official, it would only help back up the obvious.
Moments like when one of the trainers is giving the so called educational moment of the show, speaking to the public: “That’s why all of our actions are very careful thought out…especially our work interaction…WOW…” and one of the whales comes and almost runs him over, he then jokes “Ahahah, you big dork.” And then he resumes “Especially our water work interactions because they’re potentially the most dangerous.” This is one of my favorite moments. When he was clearly saying, ‘Uff, that was close.’ But at the end, I feel compassion for these trainers. I understand where they’re standing. For various reasons, we can’t control these feelings of empowerment, for instance, of dealing with this stunning and great animal. The bonds that are created, I believe when they say that they stayed for the whales, I understand if some felt mad for people who were against them because they had that emotional connection and so it hurt them.
I think most things in life are about timing. There’s timeliness to most of life events. Meanwhile, I’ve seen other documentaries and I watched The Cove all over again, and I began to think about this aspect - timing. Many people knew about the whale slaughter in Japan and other areas, maybe from the eighties, but things never really progressed in terms of activism. Then in the last few years, gradually, activists began to take a more direct action, like when a number of surfers went to that cove, until the culminating moment, I think, when the documentary showcased the history of those cruel events. I felt like that was a culmination and from the moment the film began to make headlines everywhere, I believe a movement slowly started to improve, because of course the movement already existed, but perhaps not as strongly. And I guess it’s never too late, yes many have died, but many can still be saved.
I think now it’s happening the same with Blackfish. The Cove is a much more dense, much more troubling and difficult I would say, especially emotionally, but Blackfish is able to also bring that particularly special awareness – it’s the right time, it’s a culmination of a case that is now open to everyone, a moment when people can be heard in a more substantial way, which helps a lot.
The film really raises that ultimate question, so many people comment, of the notion of animals in captivity – in aquariums, zoos, etc. I don’t think there’s got to be a great meditation on the subject rather than the conclusion that these animals are better in their natural habitat. The only situations that differ from the previous are really those Clinique institutions, those places based on rehabilitation, and of animals in extinction.
Learning more about this, I don’t think freeing the whales is the great solution, quite the contrary in fact. We have the case of Keiko, the Free Willy whale who was suddenly under people’s spell and the Free Willy Foundation was created and you can learn that it took a long time for her to adjust – or better, she never really adjusted. Believe it or not, she couldn’t even eat live fish. Can you imagine an Orca not being able to eat tiny little live fish, when you can see them tearing apart seals? They kill these whales from the moment they take them from their natural habitat. Then what to do? People can start by not going to the shows. I think. With this, the Sea World will inevitably have to rethink their program. In this lines, to stop breeding would also be another huge step. Not having to do five shows per day, or any shows at all, rather than just for public display and let them rest. Rehabilitation programs, like putting them in the sea, with proper areas with nets, sure, but at least let them be in the sea and feed them until they die. It’s up to the whale movement now, I guess.
At the end of Blackfish we most definitely stay waiting for more, much more. At least I did. It stays with you, this is the most certain aspect! You will be thinking about Blackfish for days.