What the anti-SeaWorld documentary ‘Blackfish’ leaves out

blackfish-thumb-630xauto-36453As a travel writer, I have to cover SeaWorld from time to time. I wrote this in the New York Post in January 2009, 13 months before Dawn Brancheau was eaten by Tilikum at SeaWorld:

“At SeaWorld, daily shows by Shamu the killer whale titillate you with the dangerous possibility that the star will suddenly remember its place on the food chain and gulp down a trainer.”

And I just posted this on Twitter:

This about sums up what is left unsaid—loudly unsaid—in Blackfish.

Let’s not be disingenuous about this. Orcas are wild, seagoing carnivores. They do not belong in tanks. People go to watch a creature the size of a school bus submit to a puny human. Yet the movie includes clips of trainers registering shock that their bosses never warned them that, gee, killer whales were so dangerous.

There’s a lot of armchair psychology going on, a whole lot of anthropomorphization, and some justified excoriation of amusement practices (albeit for its first hour, ones that haven’t been employed in decades by the respected parks).

It is human nature to gawp at power and, perhaps in further worship of power, to make animals dance. It is also human nature to be cruel.

And it’s the nature of animals to act like animals.

It’s not SeaWorld. It’s us.

I like this tweet, too, although it wasn’t mine:

Blackfish leaves out the fact that we go to SeaWorld, to circuses, and to many zoos because the animals are dangerous, and it teases our latent anxieties to wonder if our power over them is about to crumble.

Not to justify or excuse any of it—but Blackfish lets all tourists off the hook.

(Also, shouldn’t it be called Blackmammal?)

6 Responses to “What the anti-SeaWorld documentary ‘Blackfish’ leaves out”

  1. waddsworth

    I’m having a hard time processing just how wrong you are. Orcas are not known to be dangerous in the wild, and have an impeccable record of zero human fatalities to support that very well known reputation. Orcas in captivity (at Sea World and elsewhere) are not marketed as ferocious beasts to be tamed only by the bravest and manliest of men. They are marketed as highly intelligent, caring partners in breathtakingly choreographed shows of the most elaborate stupid pet tricks. They smile. They wave. They give kisses. They “sympathetically” bend to the will of the crippled child from the audience.

    That you think these shows draw, to even the most microscopic degree, upon the type of bloodlust that is palpable in the vaudevillian acts of gator wrestling or lion taming is amazing in its scope of stupidity. You’d have more success in trying to convince me that people take subways for the opportunity it presents them to witness someone getting pushed into the path of an oncoming train. To practice my own armchair psychology… you are projecting your psychotic tendencies onto your readers. Your desperation to do so is evident in the fact that you have only yourself to quote as “support” for your argument. And you do it twice.
    The problem IS Seaworld. And us. Its Seaworld because they’ve taken an incredible creature and perverted its perfect nature. They’ve painfully transformed it from something that is not known to kill humans into something that is. Its us because we pay money to see that transformation, ignorantly ohhing and ahhing the abuse that is happening right in front of our stupid smiling faces. Its us not because we all posess some sub-conscious sadism that yearns for blood. No, its actually the exact opposite. Its us because we prefer the convenience of believing that we can have Sea Worlds without the pain, blood, death and misery.
    The documentary is complete. You’re the one missing something.

    • Jason Cochran

      Yes, you clearly are having a hard time processing, and frankly, you’d do your arguments more good if you didn’t admit that. I’ll make it simpler for you, then stand aside for more baseless and anti-social personal attacks: There would be no Shamu show without a market, and the market exists because it’s human nature to gawp at things that can kill us with a whim. If it were a tank of cod, there would be no show.

      We all need to take a closer look at ourselves and our tendencies to be thoughtless and base, which is a point you illustrate quite well with the tenor of the comments you make on other people’s websites.

  2. Oliver

    Must express my total agreement with you Wadsworth, it is absolutely the fault of Seaworld; for manipulating both Orcas and the public.
    Orcas to be simply puppets and mere shadows of what they can be away from the brain washed audiences of parks like Seaworld and the public to be just that; cruelly brain washed into believing that what they see is the full picture of the Orca, a simpering ‘pet’ to be admired on a day out.
    The enclosure of Orcas is such a tragic case of extorting nature and that which is far more pure than much of humanity can appreciate.
    Is it worth imprisoning these animals, lying to cover up their distressed attacks and insulting those who lose their lives as a result of the animal’s abuse just to make a profit? I really wish there weren’t people who thought yes.

  3. harry

    My kids loved the Killer whale, dolphin and seal shows at Sea World. It’s what got them interested in whales and other sea creatures in the first place and no they didn’t go there hoping shamu would eat the trainer that’s just stupid. Shutting down these shows would be a big mistake. Next thing you know some PETA nuts will make a sappy propaganda film about elephants and we’ll close the zoos.

  4. James

    Waddsworth, you’re comment about Orca’s nature in the wild isn’t well represented because the majority of Orca’s studied in the wild are “residential” and are mostly fish eaters. “Transient” Orca’s show a more agressive disposition and have been observed killing sharks for no real reason and eating just the tongues of whale calves after forcing them away from their mother and killing them by drowning them.

  5. Ben

    Yeah wadsworth you’re totally wrong about the nature of orcas. They’re called “wolves” of the sea because they are so dangerous. As stated earlier, they are mainly fish eaters but will also kill seal pups and whale calves and even have been seen killing for no reason. However we cannot deny the importance of places like sea world and zoos! Obviously it’s a little sad to see the animals locked but the good these places do in conservation is incredible! Sea world is a massive contributer to conserving ocean wildlife. Jason your article is stupid. No one goes to sea world because of some power worshipping trait/controlling trait. People go because it’s pretty amazing to watch. Your argument does not stand.