By Lauren Booth
We’re starting a new series reviewing films that have some link to veganism, whether that’s animal rights, or the impact of a plant-based diet on health and the environment. First up, we have Lauren’s review of Blackfish.
Blackfish is a 2013 documentary film by Grabriela Cowpethwaite exposing the practises of the American entertainment company SeaWorld and the consequences of keeping animals in captivity.
The film centres around the use of orcas for amusements and focuses on one orca in particular named Tilikum who at the time was part of SeaWorld Orlando. Tilikum was their star attraction and a favourite with the trainers, but little did the trainers know that he had a dark past. Before Tilikum passed in 2017, three deaths of human beings had been attributed to him.
They start with accounts of numerous ex-SeaWorld trainers talking about what it was like to get their dream job training and swimming with marine animals every day. It’s a cutthroat industry where personality is most important, and the majority of applicants don’t make the cut. Most trainers are young, naïve and have never seen these animals in their natural habitats. Everything they know about the animals they care for comes from the mouth of SeaWorld.
Orcas are found in every ocean on the planet. They are highly intelligent animals with their own distinct cultures and languages. They’re known for their inquisitive nature, playfulness, and fierce hunting skills in the wild. Each group is as diverse as humans are. Until very recently we knew very little about just how intelligent and complex they are, and we are still studying them, but we do know they have a part of their brain that we as humans don’t have. They have highly developed paralimbic systems which process emotions, social interactions, and memory.
Most of SeaWorld’s orcas were wild caught at a very young age and stripped from their family networks. Blackfish powerfully illustrates how these captures were undertaken and what methods were used. They show the effect it had on those who participated in the hunt once they realised what they were doing, and the pain very obviously displayed by the families of the babies who were stolen.
The story of Blackfish is told all through eyewitness and expert accounts. It documents the long history of SeaWorld’s abusive treatment of animals, endangering its employees and practice of money over everything else.
It is a heart-breaking story of loss, pain, and cruelty. Despite the tragic reality for these animals in captivity the documentary team have done a great job of making it an easy watch. Though there are upsetting moments in this story they show case what amazing creatures orcas are.
Blackfish is a landmark learning moment for animal rights. This film was instrumental in the downfall of SeaWorld which is still ongoing. SeaWorld made massive losses as no one wanted to see these animals upon knowing the extent of their suffering and the parks negligence towards their staff. In America new bills were introduced across states to protect wild orca populations and ban their captivity. SeaWorld have agreed that they will not have any new orcas be that from the wild, captive bred or bought. Unfortunately, despite this, orcas continue to be kept as performing acts across the world including America.
Coming from a vegan perspective, it’s important that we remember these animals don’t have a voice. Blackfish was a voice for these animals and was instrumental in the recognition of their struggles as captive circus performers. Veganism isn’t just a dietary choice, like many believe it to be, it’s a way of life. Veganism gives us the moral building blocks we need to live a compassionate and selfless life to all. As humans we have been given this gift of power over the planet and to quote the over-quoted uncle Ben “with great power, comes great responsibility.” Sadly, although changes have been made, we are still a long way off. I implore you, if this film resonates with you, look into this more. There are still orcas who need our help including one who has been in captivity for over 50 years. Never underestimate the power we have as individuals to make change.
Featured image by Kenny Eliason on Unsplash.