The documentary Blackfish exposes the practices of SeaWorld with pertinent consideration to the unethical captivity of orcas.
The film provides numerous arguments in support of outlawing orcas being held in captivity. The most controversial of these arguments is the dangers to both the trainers and the orcas. Moreover, the film focuses on the dishonest history of SeaWorld and the lack of public knowledge into the questionable operations of the corporation.
In “Body Ritual Among the Nacirema” by Horace Miner, our lack of knowledge of a foreign culture can shape our perception. In which case, just as the essay describes a foreign culture, I felt as if I belonged to another group while watching Blackfish as I felt like seeing the orcas being held in captivity should be considered animal cruelty and I did not understand how anyone could possibly think that it was ok to support SeaWorld. My mind had already been made up, therefore I felt as if I belonged to a foreign group. How could anyone pay for tickets to watch these orcas swim in a confined tank and jump on command? These beautiful thousand pound animals who are extremely emotionally intelligent. SeaWorld is a place that I can not understand. Especially given the fact there has been so many fatalities and injuries to trainers over the years. It is not right for humans to interact with wild animals. It is cruel to separate a mother from her baby. We would never do that to a human being. Why on earth is that ok to do that to wild animals? Why is it ok to take wild animals out of their natural habitats for our own personal entertainment?
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The documentary uses a tone that is firm and informative to arouse empathy from the viewing audience. Because the film aims to expose SeaWorld’s exploitation of orcas, the film is intended for a general audience. The film also relays a persuasive tone. This was established by conducting interviews with former trainers. For example, the use of interviewing former SeaWorld trainers who provide their insight on SeaWorld, portrays them as having good moral character and builds trust within the audience towards the ex-trainers.
The biggest danger associated with being an orca trainer is being in an uncontrolled environment with a killer whale is the argument made in Blackfish. The documentary begins by telling the story of the first death of a trainer at SeaLand, allegedly killed by Tilikum, and leads up to the more recent death of Dawn Brancheau. The former trainers disclose that there was not any formal training required for the position, that personality and strong swimming were the biggest factors. The former trainers claim they were never told of any injuries or fatalities of SeaWorld trainers. Only recently, following an OSHA ruling, trainers must stay behind a barrier when in the water with an orca for protection. This follows the argument that SeaWorld knew of the dangers, yet continued to place the trainers at risk.
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Blackfish equally compares the dangers faced by both orcas held in captivity and by trainers interacting with them in their space. For example, the orcas held in captivity typically have mental health issues. Having been raised in captivity from infancy into adulthood this lifestyle leads to psychosis. Blackfish suggests that this psychosis is the reason that there is a root cause of whale-on-whale and whale-on-human aggression. There are no records of orcas attacking humans in the wild. Blackfish also shows numerous videos of orcas raking one another as well as one even bleeding to death after being attacked by another orca.
It has been suggested that orcas have a sense of self-awareness and a complex system of social relation that the human mind is not able to comprehend. MRI scans detected an extra part of the brain in orcas that is not present in humans, adjacent to the paralimbic cleft. There is the strong possibility of the orca species being aware, like us humans, it is unethical for these animals to remain being held in captivity.
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Regardless of whether one agrees with orca captivity or not, Blackfish exposes SeaWorld as a profit-driven corporation without regard to their employees’ safety and animal cruelty. There are several instances throughout Blackfish that are noted of SeaWorld officials lying to trainers, park guests, and to the public in regards to the death of Dawn Brancheau. In addition, it is mentioned that it was requested of managers forcing employees to destroy certain videos, attempting to cover-up the risks to the trainers. SeaWorld’s legal team is shown numerous times in the case of OSHA vs. SeaWorld, suggesting that the corporation is well prepared to protect their profits.
Blackfish is able to reach a specific audience and bring to mind strong feelings about the controversy that surrounds orcas at SeaWorld. By using the strategy of persuasion, viewers are able to understand Blackfish and its position on holding orcas in a prison-like environment. Blackfish exposes the harsh treatment of orcas in captivity, while simultaneously informing viewers of the equally harmful dangers that the trainers encounter with the orcas who are mentally unstable as a direct result of their captivity.