Blackfish by Director Gabriella Cowperthwait

The documentary Blackfish created by Director Gabriella Cowperthwaite explores long-held misconceptions and the harmful living conditions for orca whales at Seaworld, causing the whales to lash out violently toward their trainers.

Cowperthwaites well-written documentary addresses the controversial captivity of killer whales and the effect it could have on the psychological mindset of whales. The use of live footage that captured the harm inflicted upon these whales along with their trainers, allowed for a very persuasive argument to be put forth. Gabriella Cowperthwaite is assisted by many other eyewitnesses that provide anecdotes and testimonies of what occurred at Seaworld regarding the whales. By using prior workers from Seaworld, it allows for a clear argument to get across to the audience. The central audience Cowperthwaite is addressing in her piece is Seaworld, as she mentions them directly several times throughout the documentary. Also, she speaks to those people that have ever been to Seaworld so she can bring realization of what is happening behind the scenes. Conveying her message to the wider audience, introduces her goal of the documentary, which is to bring awareness and educate people so they stop supporting Seaworlds growth as a corporation. Gabriella Cowperthwaites use of first hand testimony from prior trainters, facts that are enhanced by experts and her development of sympathy towards the whales enhances her argument that Seaworlds captivity of orca whales is detrimental to their psychological health and causing aggressive actions to be produced.

Gabriella Cowperthwaite begins her argument by using credible anecdotes and testimony from first-hand Seaworld workers to establish a more believable and persuasive argument. The documentary is comprised of live footage of interactions with the whales, as well as prior trainers who go in depth with their experiences at Seaworld. Dawn Brancheau, a woman who lost her life due to an orca related accident was a central aspect of this documentary. Cowperthwaite included videos of her graphic attack as well as her positive interactions with the whales. The inclusion of the positive interactions allow for the audience to see the one-on-one relationship members had with the whales and conclude that the attacks that occurred were not the trainer’s fault. Followed by Brancheau’s anecdote, former trainers addressed the experiences that occurred with Brancheau and talk about their personal account with the situation, one speaker being an OSHA Expert Witness Whale Researcher, Dave Duffus. Samantha Berg, Jeffrey Ventre, Carol Ray, and John Hargrove, the four trainers who appear throughout the video are a huge part of building the argument. The credibility of the workers at Seaworld and their stories mend together to create one strong testimony about Seaworlds captivity of whales and how it affects people around them.

Throughout the documentary, Cowperthwaite creates sympathy towards the orcas by showing live footage and telling anecdotes of mournful events that the whales experienced. A major point Cowperthwaite gets across is that even though that the whales are the one killing, in this situation they are not seen as the enemy. They are helpless animals that are used by Seaworld to produce a great financial gain. An emotional story that is seen in this documentary regards a baby orca and her mother. In wildlife, whales stay with their mothers practically their whole life; but at seaworld they are separated from their mothers at as early as four years. A mother-child relationship that was addressed was Calina and Catrina. These two orcas had always been side-by-side, but were tragically separated and, “after Calina was removed from the scene and put on the truck and taken to the airport, Catina, her mom, was left in the pool. She stayed in the corner of the pool, literally just shaking and screaming, screeching, crying,” (00:37:27). By including this anecdote of a child getting dragged away from their mother creates a common ground with the audience. Anybody would say that losing a child or a parent is the hardest thing and this causes sympathy with the whales. Overall, Cowperthwaite uses emotion to deliver her argument, which causes the audience to sympathize with the whales and blame Seaworld.

Statistics and expert testimony were seen within the documentary, helping enhance the argument about negativity brought with the captivity of orcas at Seaworld. Throughout Blackfish, there are several expert testimonies that address how captivity is affecting the whales. Lori Marino, a neuroscientist and a research associate with the Smithsonian Institute, gives her knowledge about the psychological damage the whales are experiencing. In the wild, whales in general are very social and rely on other whales for their happiness, but at Seaworld, “all whales in captivity have a bad life. They’re all emotionally destroyed. They’re all psychologically traumatized”. Also in Cowperthwaites argument, she includes quantitative data about the number of whale attacks. In the wild there are zero orca attacks; but by putting an orca in captivity, that number rises to 150 and a majority of those attacks take place at Seaworld. Due to captivity and how psychologically draining it is, the life expectancy of the whales at seaworld drops by about fifty percent. By providing facts from an individual that experts on behavior, it allows the audience to have no choice but to believe what is being said. The incorporation of experts in this documentary allows people to understand the effect Seaworlds treatment has on whales and creates the conclusion that Cowperthwaites claim is true.

In the documentary Blackfish, Gabriella Cowperthwaite argues that the captivity of whales at Seaworld is producing a negative effect on the orca whale. She uses credible anecdotes as well as psychological professionals that contribute to strengthen her argument. Throughout her documentary, she brings emotion that creates a common ground between the whales and the audience. Credibility is widely shown throughout the documentary, as Cowperthwaite constantly incorporates them within her arguments. By using credible figures throughout the piece, anecdotes were created which came together to create a strong argument. Pathos is one of the biggest appeals that is used within every aspect of the film. The several scenarios that are included about the whales and their treatment, as well as the treatment of the people that are domino effect from the treatment of the whales, allow the audience to feel sympathy and thus creates a stronger argument. Logical appeals are woven into Cowperthwaites argument as well. The strong use of specific statistics that directly relate to Seaworlds treatment, prove to the audience that the actions produced by Seaworld are wrong and prove the director’s argument.