Film review: Blackfish

I was lucky to snag a ticket to a showing of Blackfish at the Seattle International Film Festival. Blackfish reveals the complicated life of Tilikum, an orca born in the wild off the coast of Iceland. As a young whale, Tilikum was forcibly separated from his mother and sent to perform at a marine park in Victoria BC. He’s been in captivity since 1983 and is currently confined at SeaWorld in Florida.

The documentary reveals the frustrations Tilikum has endured and how he’s been picked on by other whales in his pool, cooped up in a dark “garage” of sorts during off seasons, and forced to perform year in and year out.

Orcas similar to Tilikum

Out of his frustrations, grew an aggression that wild orcas don’t display toward humans. Tilikum has killed three people, two of which were trainers.

The movie shows the horrors of wild capture and captive breeding. It documents the unnatural acts orcas are forces to perform in front of clueless audiences. The charade SeaWorld conducts is shameful. They lead people into believing these beautiful whales somehow enjoy their time in captivity and are safe and happy.

On the contrary, an orca’s life in captivity is extremely short. They live on average for 9 years from the time they are captives–regardless of how old they were when they entered captivity. In the wild, male orcas can live about 60 years; females up to 100.

Orcas, also called killer whales, live in family units called pods. Each pod speaks a different “language.” They live with or near their pod for their whole lives and travel about 100 miles a day. They are extremely social and have highly developed emotions. To see families separated and grief-stricken and captive whales isolated in concrete pools was heartbreaking. But the film is an important movie to watch.

Blackfish will be released in NY and LA later this summer, and more widely after that. CNN Documentaries is distributing the film on TV in the fall.

It’s a terrific resource and the things you’ll learn apply to all captive marine animals. Sadly, SeaWorld is one of the better marine parks. There are many more orcas who languish is worse conditions, including many at Canada’s Marineland.

What to do

First of all, never go to a marine park like SeaWorld or Marineland. Ask your friends not to go and talk to schools about canceling field trips to marine parks. Marine parks exist for one reason, and one reason alone: making money. Vote with your dollars and spend your time and money somewhere else.

Look at the websites below for information about how to help. Two orcas, Morgan and Lolita, are great candidates for release.


Blackfish website – Information about the movie, including the trailer and upcoming screenings.

Orca Network – Information about whales in the Pacific Northwest, creating safe whale habitats, and the Free Lolita campaign.

Voice of the Orcas – Interview and current event about conservation and activism.

Miami Sea Prison – Information about captive orcas and the fight to release Lolita, the last surviving whale from the L Pod hunt in 1970.

Free Morgan Foundation – The campaign to release Morgan, an orca currently in captivity in The Netherlands.

Marineland Animal Defense – A campaign to end animal captivity at Marineland in Niagara Falls Canada.


4 thoughts on “Film review: Blackfish

  1. I want to see this. I remember the last time I was at SeaWorld (way back when I lived in Orlando, and someone got me in free) thinking that I never wanted to go back. Besides the rollercoaster, it was such a sad place. And I was really turned off by the fact that all the restaurants were so seafood heavy. (I was vegetarian then.) It seemed really wrong to me to take your kids to see these animals, and then eat them for lunch.

    • That’s a good point. They look at all the lovely “fish” and then they have seafood for lunch. I went to Marineland once found it depressing. I asked my parents years later why they never took me back and they cited the same reason!

      Rollercoaster parks like 6 Flags, now that’s fun! And no one is enslaved…

  2. I am going to have to watch this. I read a book on the same topic called “Death at Seaworld”. It was very disturbing and sad.

    • In my research for this post, I came across the book “Death at SeaWorld.” Its looks like a good read, even though it sounds really heartbreaking.

      I recommend the movie. It was informative, and made me angry, mostly. The parts that brought tears to my eyes were when I saw footage of orca families in the wild and I thought of the ones in captivity who will never again experience that freedom.

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