Blackfish photo starrating-4stars.jpgBlackfish is a documentary about Tilikum, a male orca held at SeaWorld in Orlando. Orcas, or killer whales, are the largest of the dolphins and one of the world’s most powerful predators. This chronicle details the history of this particular killer whale. Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite analyzes the contributing factors that have led to three deaths. Two trainers and a SeaWorld visitor have been casualties during his 30 odd years in captivity. In fact the death one of their coaches is how this record starts.

Blackfish does a brilliant job at charting the life of Tilikum. He was captured in Berufjörður off the east coast of Iceland on November 9, 1983 at two years of age, along with two other orcas. His “career” began at a now-defunct Canadian theme park called Sealand of the Pacific. Archival footage supports how he was attacked by two older females in the tank. After causing the death of one of his trainers there, Tilikum was transferred to Sea World Orlando in 1992. The film makes a strong argument that the trauma and anxieties to which he was subjected to there, remained with him. However the sermonizing is minimal and what comes next is haunting.

Like any documentary, Blackfish should be taken with a grain of salt. It would’ve been nice if a representative from SeaWorld had agreed to an on-camera interview. Instead we’re given re-printed testimony from SeaWorld officials in previous court cases which went to trail. Perhaps their refusal to participate says something. To this day, Tilikum continues to perform at SeaWorld Orlando, following a year-long hiatus after the death of experienced trainer Dawn Brancheau in 2010. Cowperthwaite suggests that Tilikum’s continued current use is business related. He is the most successful sire in captivity, with 21 offspring, 11 of which are still alive.

At the very least, this scathing attack on SeaWorld will question your decision to support this amusement park with a visit. Her research is impeccable. In the account she makes a very powerful case that killer whales should not be kept in captivity at all . That their confinement is to the detriment of both the animal as well as humans involved. The cruel conditions they’re kept in is a contributing factor. She lambastes the practice of separating wild whale pups from their mothers. The accompanying footage replete with piercing sounds of a wailing mother is heartbreaking. More than a dozen testimonies from trainers, employees and experts discuss the inner workings of these parks. Many of it from former employees at the actual Sea World park where Tilikum now resides. It’s clear that many guides have been misled by SeaWorld officials on the dangers posed by these 5-ton beasts. Blackfish is more than mere entertainment. It’s necessary viewing and one of the most important documentaries of the year.

The first time I watched Blackfish was on Novmeber 12, 2013, when it was released to DVD and Blu-ray. Therefore my review has been post-dated despite the fact that my review was written on January 16, 2014.

10 Responses to “Blackfish”

  1. Mark, I was fortunate to have seen this film back ln April as it opened the Sarasota Film Festival. Cowperthwaite and a few others who appeared in the film were in attendance and took questions from the audience. I was very moved by this powerful indictment of Sea Wold and other venues.

    It shows how the medium of film can be used to create changes in the way people think and act. As you said in your last sentence -[Blackfish is] one of the most important documentaries of the year.

    My review was published on April 6th, 2013:


  2. Alexander Diminiano Says:

    “The first time I watched Blackfish was on Novmeber 12, 2013, when it was released to DVD and Blu-ray. Therefore my review has been post-dated despite the fact that my review was written on January 16, 2014.”

    Not sure whether you usually write your reviews the day you truly put them up, but how do you write such an elaborate review months after seeing a movie? Or is it just that Blackfish just stays with you that much?

    I must see this. I never would have guessed that a documentary about a SeaWorld whale would be so riveting. I think this is on Netflix, in fact, so it’s a must for this weekend. Thanks a bunch.


    • I take copious notes right after seeing a film. Then I re-watched it. Ha ha. I have the DVD. But yeah it stays with you.

      It aired on CNN several times last year so possibly the most watched documentary of the year. It makes its snub at the Oscars even more surprising.


  3. I haven’t seen this yet but I’ms surprised this got overlooked by the Oscars. Nice review as always.


    • Someone had this to say on Twitter:

      “You know what you get when you rearrange Oscar? ORCAS.” —Alex Mizrahi @alexmiz

      I thought a nomination was a foregone conclusion for this popular documentary.


  4. This should have been nominated for an Oscar. Snubbed! Anyways, I obviously liked this documentary a lot. It was very well done and fact driven. Sea World did nothing to defend itself against the allegations. I really feel that Tilikum should have been released into the wild after the first death. Sad to realize he was used as property to father so many offspring. Very sad. I don’t think I could ever go back to Sea World again. 4 stars


  5. I watched this the other day and couldn’t believe what I was watching. It was so beautiful…but I never want to go to SeaWorld again. Never again.

    Envoyé de mon iPhone



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: