Thursday 21 September 2017

Sad trade in whales

Sealife: Film explores the ethics of keeping whales in captivity
Sealife: Film explores the ethics of keeping whales in captivity

Paul Whitington

Film Review: Blackfish (No Cert, Light House, 83 minutes) 4 STARS

Director: Gabriela Cowperthwaite Stars: Samantha Berg, Dave Duffus, Dean Gomersall

In February of 2010, a female trainer at a SeaWorld resort in Miami was torn to pieces by a killer whale. Dawn Brancheau was an experienced employee and had been working and swimming with the whales for years, but SeaWorld initially claimed that errors on her part led to the unfortunate incident.

In Gabriela Cowperthwaite's controversial new documentary Blackfish, however, we hear claims that the multi-million dollar franchise is being economical with the truth.

The whale was a 12,000lb bull Orca called Tilikum, and Dawn may not have been his first victim.

Blackfish critiques the whole practice of keeping whales and dolphins in captivity and using them as show ponies by telling us Tilikum's story.

He was caught as a calf off Iceland by hunters who separated all the baby whales from their parents and took as many as they could. In the wild, Orcas live in highly organised family groups, but the film tells us that Tilikum was bullied and bitten by the unrelated females he was housed with in SeaWorld, and locked for up to 16 hours a day in a darkened pen.

There is no recorded incidence of a killer whale ever attacking a human in the wild, but plenty in captivity. Cowperthwaite's film suggests that Tilikum may have been responsible for the death of a trainer in Canada in 1991 following which he was moved on to another aquatic park, something SeaWorld denies.

The trainers who inherited Tilikum became attached to him, but did not know his background.

Cowperthwaite's thought-provoking film has been accused of lacking balance, and SeaWorld has been strongly critical of it.

For my part, I've always thought there was something unseemly about forcing wild animals to jump through hoops for the amusement of humans, and Blackfish does not offer reassurance.

Irish Independent

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