Pathos And Ethos In The Blackfish Documentary

The controversial documentary “Blackfish”, directed by Gabriela Cowperthwaite peaked in popularity seven years ago in 2013, when it was originally released.

Blackfish tells us the story of killer whales a.k.a orcas that were caught and kept in captivity and the many issues and problems that arose from their capture. This documentary mainly has its spotlight on a killer whale named Tilikum, who was caught in 1983 and was kept in captivity in SeaWorld Orlando since his capture for 34 years. Blackfish does an incredible job of using logos, pathos and ethos to prove their argument that killer whales should not be held in captivity and how humans will face serious consequences. To start it off, ethos is used widely throughout the documentary. Almost every person that got interviewed either worked with Tilikum or other similar orcas, giving the documentary high credibility. Pathos is also used throughout the film and an example would be how it showed a clip of the whales acting positively with the trainers, which creates the image that the orcas are not the bad guys in that situation. When asked about head trainer Dawn Brancheau, the interviewees find it hard to speak, tear up and awe in disbelief when OSHA states that the cause of Dawn’s death is no one but herself. Gabriela Cowperthwaite made the film targeting the general public and people wanting to go to SeaWorld and she chose every aspect like pathos and ethos with utmost care because every scene was designed in a way that it persuaded you to side with the argument that whales should not be kept in captivity.

In Blackfish, the film maker, Gabriela Cowperthwaite uses ethos the most out of all the rhetorical appeals. She uses video footage of whales being captured cruelly, the injury of the whales’ while they are in captivity, the lifestyle difference between free and captive whales and even footage of the trainers being attacked by the killers in captivity. Dawn Brancheau, the famous whale trainer is shown with the whales in positive attitudes but also some included footage from the actual attack. There were so many former trainers that were interviewed for the film to use as a live testimony, which was used mainly to establish ethos. The audience is more likely to believe people who have had first hand experience as trainers at SeaWorld so that they can reflect on how good or bad their experience was. They also use the testimony from a man who captured killer whales in the 80’s and he recalled the events and told the interviewers that it felt like stripping a child from its mother (Mailonline 1) For almost two years Gabriela Cowperthwaite was bombarded with terrifying facts, autopsy reports, sobbing interviewees, and unhappy animals and she was determined to get the truth to the public by all means. All the stories go hand in hand and help strengthen the validity of the point that orcas should remain in the wild rather than in underwater jails.

Most of the Pathos in Blackfish is demonstrated by showing both pleasant and horrid footage of orcas. There are many footages of the whales acting like obedient children listening to instructions and also other footage of blood red waters caused by injuries to orcas. Although the “killer” whale is doing all the killing, they are portrayed as innocent in the situation. They are seen as helpless objects SeaWorld uses for its financial gain. Trainers tell heartbreaking stories about whales being separated from their mothers. Orcas in the wild tend to stay with their mothers their whole lives but at SeaWorld, they are captured and brought in to perform tricks at the age of 3-4 years. One of the most spine chilling testimonies was that of a whale that was separated from its mother at SeaWorld, the mother went day and night making noises that none of the trainers have ever heard before. When we see the happy clips of the whales acting calm and obedient, it creates the image that they are not the bad guys in the situation. Many former trainers emphasize that the relationship with these animals is such a magnificent and unbreakable bond. The quote “If you were in a bathtub for 25 years, don’t you think you’d get a little psychotic” is showing us how we would feel, if we were in their place. Gabriela reminds us that these animals are unaware of their size and power and end up hurting people and other whales unintentionally. This is mainly to make the audience sympathize with the whale, not to put all the blame on them. Gabriela’s plan was to make people think more about why we put these majestic animals in cages, solely for entertainment purposes. To sell the argument really well, she uses real life experience to trigger people’s emotions, hence making you fimly stand aside arguing that whales should not be kept in captivity.

Logos are used in this film by displaying quantitative data. The number of human attacks by killer whales in the wild surprisingly is zero, but taking cases of the orcas in captivity, there are over 150 attacks, 94 of which occurred at Seaworld facilities. Of those attacks 4 were fatalities and all of which were caused by orcas that were kept captive at SeaWorld. The whales were trapped in small pools/ cages, not given ample amounts of food,and separated from their family. A major example is Tilikum, the infamous ”killer” whale who became stressed and aggravated due to those reasons leading him to potentially kill 3 people. Blackfish emphasizes on a key fact which is that orcas have a larger limbic system than humans (controls the emotions). This tells us that they are very emotional creatures and live in a family based structure their whole lives. Like humans, they share a strong mother to child relationship and if they are seperated, they feel pain, suffering and distress, resorting to violence to stand their ground. Gabriela uses logos very effectively by persuading the viewers that orcas become mentalliy ill while they are being held captive at SeaWorld.

Gabriela Cowperthwaite made the film and chose every aspect like pathos and ethos with utmost care because every scene was designed in a way that it persuaded you to side with the argument that whales should not be kept in captivity. Being locked away in a small bathtub for 25 years will cause you to go insane and that is exactly what the film makers of this documentary want you to feel. They start the documentary with a blank screen and a 9-1-1 call, getting your full attention because they know that starting off with a small suspense will make the viewers longing to see what will happen next. The pathos, ethos and logos were all emotionally dense with interviewees struggling to find words, pale and crying over the death of their fellow co-worker and head trainer Dawn Brancheau. Real life experiences are presented to trigger people’s emotions so that they will be in tears at the end of the movie. Sad and depressing background music were used to create that heart sunk feeling when talking about a whale being stripped from its mother and scare tactics were used to reel in the audience at a more effective rate. Gabriela’s use of the 3 appeals had the main purpose of spreading the word about the harmful effects that places like SeaWorld cause not only on the whales but also on people that are involved with them as well.