First off I'd like to say I'm not a fan of amusement parks such as Sea World and zoos. Although I have been to zoos in my life I have always struggled with the idea of animals behind cages and not being able to fully live in their own natural habitat. So when I heard there was a documentary that exposed Sea World and their nasty little secrete about the Orcas and the number of incidents surrounding their aggressive behavior.
Blackfish tells the story of Tillikum the biggest Orca Whale in captivity weighing in at 12-thousand pounds. This guy is massive and his strength and girth is very visible from the moment you see him.
To truly understand Tillikum issues you have to go all the way back to the moment he was captured back in the 70's for a park called Sea Land in British Columbia. Tillikum was 2 years old when he was ripped from his mother and is family unit and taken into captivity at Sea Land. Sea Land had no business what so ever being in business. Sea Land trainers even referred to the habitat as a swimming pool with whales. Tillikum's issues started the moment he was dropped into this small pool with two female Orca's. Tillikum's first trainer decided the best way to train the new Orca was to pair him with one of the older females. The problem was when Tillikum didn't perform as instructed the trainer would withhold food from him and the female. This lead the female to get extremely aggressive with Tillikum raking her teeth across his body causing cuts and scratches all over. Tillikum was abused from day one and all three whales where forced into a small inclose with no light for hours and hours unless they were out performing. It was at Sea Land the first attack by Tillikum happen. When a trainer's foot slipped into the pool and Tillikum grabbed on. The two other female whales followed suit and as the trainer screamed for help witnesses said she was heard screaming "I don't want to die." It was reported that no one knew for sure which whale actually took ahold of the trainer's foot and the blame fell on the two females. Shortly after the incident Sea Land closed and Sea World was more than happy to snatch Tillikum up.
Tillikum made his way to Sea World and trainers who worked with him and a number of other Orca's say they were never told the truth behind the first attack at Sea Land and were in fact told it was the females who instigated the attack. This was the beginning of a new chapter for Tillikum and it wouldn't be the last time his aggression would come back and cause issue. But in truth Tillikum isn't the only Sea World Orca to attack someone. Other trainers have had their legs snatched and dragged down to the bottom of the pool. There is video of trainers being body slammed by the giant creatures. In fact one incident caught on tape show a trainer riding a whale as another whale comes out of nowhere and throws his body on top if the trainer. A former Sea World trainer said the only thing keeping that trainers body together was his wetsuit and today his body is put together by a ton of hardware. But that incident that video was never shown to new trainers. They were never warned something like this could happen.
This documentary is heart breaking. Tillikum was basically bought for breading purposes. There are two births highlighted in the film. When Orcas have calf's, mom and baby are inseparable. This behavior didn't work for Sea World and was in fact found to be a distraction. So the babies were taken from the mothers and given to other parks. Watching the mothers cry out for their young was unbearable to watch. Orca behavior is extremely similar to human behavior, in fact Orca whales live the same life span as human beings. The film points out Sea World trained their staff to tell visitors that these creatures lives for 25-30 years in the wild, but in captivity they live longer because they have access to veterinarians. This is not true and Orca researchers will tell you this is a bold face lie.
Like most kids I though swimming with the Dolphins and Whales would be the coolest job ever. But I was always under the impression he trainers had to have degrees in marine biology and understand the behavior or such animals. Turns out that's not so much the case at Sea World. I can not speak to other places since this file focused on Sea World. But apparently to be a trainer at Sea World all the skills you need is a great ability to swim, be physically fit and have a personality that can entertain the masses. So basically anyone can train these giant animals regardless of your background.
As I watched this film it struck me. This a great case for nature verses nurture. These animals are caged in spaces that are too small. They have no where to go. In the case of Tillikum, form the time he was introduced to humans he was beaten up and treated like he was just a tool to make money. It's no wonder there were several cases where he lashed out.
After the incident in 2010 where Tillikum attacked and killed his trainer, Tillikum is kept in isolation. You can see video of him alone and depressed. It's almost as if he don't have the will to live. According to Sea World, Tillikum is still performing and gets to interact with the other Orcas. Who know much of that is true. It seems that when ever there's an incident in which a Sea World Orca is involved the problem is never the animal, but the fault of the trainer. The truth is both are to blame. You have people who love these animals and have deep connections with them, but they have no business getting into the water with them. They know nothing of the species and how the function and how the respond to issues. And you have the corporation who only sees dollar signs and doesn't seem to really care who gets hurt in the pursuit of money.
Places like Sea World have no business being in business. It makes me wonder how safe are the whales and dolphins at the Shedd in Chicago or the other nationally recognized aquariums around the world. I can only hope this move opens the eyes of world and we stop using these animals as entertainment. I'm all for rescue and sanctuaries but this is a clear example of exploitation.
So do yourself a favor and check it out. It's really and eye opening experience.