In nature, Orcas are known as social, intelligent creatures who roam the world’s oceans. They have families and language and culture.
When torn from these bonds, the animals endure psychological torture that can end up creating “psychotic” animals — at least that’s the story told in the compelling documentary “Blackfish” about ‘serial’ killer whale and SeaWorld attraction, Tilikum.
In this psychological thriller, the male orca’s history of violence is blamed on the animals isolation in captivity — the equivalent of psychological torture — and on bullying by other whales.
Tilikum isn’t the only deadly killer whale in captivity, but his story is chilling. The movie features other examples of how these whales become dangerous when held in these small cement tanks and separated from their families.
The film has put SeaWorld under the magnifying glass.
Similar to Werner Herzog’s “Grizzly Man” and Academy Award winner “The Cove,” “Blackfish” advances the debate on animal behaviour issues and extends it to include the poor health and safety standards affecting animal trainers.
The movie was released in theatres in the U.S. in July 2013 and makes it broadcast premiere on October 24th, at 9:00 p.m. EDT on CNN.
To capture the orcas, whalers use aircrafts and spotters to track them, divers in speedboats set off bombs herding them into coves, then large nets trap the young ones away from their mothers, making them easy to pluck from the ocean.
Orcas are a matriarchal society. Without a mother to protect and socialize him, Tilikum was hazed and dominated by two other females he shared a cargo size container space with.
During a performance, the trio took down a part-time trainer, Keltie Byrne, while audience members watched in terror.
After the accident, Sealand was closed for good. The whales were sold and shipped off to other marine mammal parks.
Tillikum ended up at SeaWorld in Orlando, Florida, where he was attacked and ostracized by other whales -- because of that he spent a lot of time in an isolation tank.
Even though he didn't get along with the other whales, Tilikum became a major attraction at the park.
In 1999, Daniel P. Dukes, a drifter, was found dead in Tillikum's tank at the park. Reports say he climbed into Tilikum's tank while the park was closed and that he drowned, but many trainers believe he was attacked and killed by the giant whale.
Even after his second kill, SeaWorld didn't remove Tilikum from shows or their Florida location. He still worked with trainers on a daily basis.
That is, until Dawn Brancheau, a seasoned trainer, was attacked by Tilikum in 2010. According to SeaWorld, Tilikum became attracted to Dawn's ponytail taking hold off it and drowning her.
Spectators witnessing the incident did not realise at first that this was anything out of the ordinary.
SeaWorld trainers, eventually lured Tilikum with food into a smaller pool where he finally released her body.
After Brancheau's death, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration's (OSHA) issued SeaWorld a $US75,000 fine and banned humans from performing alongside orcas without a protective barrier.
SeaWorld went on the offensive against the movie, sending an email to film critics around the country pointing out supposed errors in the film.
Despite SeaWorld's objections about the movie, the spotlight on the ongoing captivity of 45 killer whales in captivity is brighter than ever. While there are no documented cases of orcas harming humans in the wild, numerous attacks and 6 deaths have occurred in captivity.
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