The Blackfish was a documentary on the plight of whales which are put in captivity for public display. The documentary placed the activities of SeaWorld on the spot for the first time to the world. From the initial records of the visits that the company used to have before and after the release of the documentary in 2013, there is a sharp drop after “Blackfish” was released. It might imply that initially people were not aware of the treatment that these whales used to go through but once they came aware of the plight of the whales, the number of people who used to visit SeaWorld reduced. Basically there was a message that the documentary carried which changed the perception of the people towards the company. The documentary uses emotional appeal to its viewers to be sympathetic to what the whales go through in captivity and avoid support the mission of its tormentors, who in this was the SeaWorld. the film focus on the story of Tilikum, a whale that is depicted to go through a lot of suffering in the hands of its trainers with the main goal of making it to be appealing to the visitors coming for marine display in SeaWorld (Telegram,2017).
The film shows that whales which are naturally social animals become aggressive when confined no matter the size of the confinement location. Naturally whales travel over 2000 kilometers but in the SeaWorld they were kept in locations which are very small (about two lengths of a mature whale) (Telegram,2017). It goes on to depict that when kept in captivity, they change from their natural social life to become aggressive, psychotic and violent animals (SeaWorld Cares,n.d). Whether this is true or not is subject to debate. However, the documentary goes on to involve scientists who many observers have claimed they were not actually scientists but representatives of animals right groups who have been against marine display for many years. This made the public believe that what the documentary showed was true therefore it effectively achieved its objective of passing the information to the public to stand up against marine display investments in the world.
Killer whales are portrayed in the documentary to originate from stressful life they go through when kept in captivity. The “neuroscientists” in the documentary explain that the shift of the behavior from friendly animals to violent is due to their separation from their families while still at a tender age. Psychologically it is argued that any animal that is separated from its family while still young miss the opportunity of learning the social behavior that it is supposed to acquire from the family. Tilikum therefore becomes violent and eventually kills its trainer, Dawn Brancheau in an accident which the film portrays to have been caused by the psychological impacts of isolating the whale from its family (SeaWorld Cares,n.d). The film also suggests that the company attempted to cover up what actually transpired in the death of the trainer. For the SeaWorld, the documentary made its popularity to go down and consequently its revenue in the market had reduced by half by the end 2013 (Beaumont-Thomas, 2014), the year the documentary was released. There was public outcry about the activities SeaWorld was carrying out especially when collecting the whales (Ferdman,2014). There was a general feeling in the public that the company was supposed to cease its activities and let the captivated whales into freedom.
The story of Tilikum was designed to inform and affect (Telegram,2017). Using witnesses who were former trainers of the whale, the documentary tells of how the whale was responsible for the death of three trainers yet the company kept this information away from the public in order to keep their business going. In the documentary Tilikum is said to have killed three people therefore amplifying the point that the whales were dangerous to those around them. However, it goes on to mention that this was an induced behavior due to the psychological effect of being separated from its family. It is therefore seen that the killer whales are a product of the people who collected them and trained them. SeaWorld was also portrayed to be responsible for illegal collection of whales some of who were calves and naturally should not be separated from their parents. For instance the film leaves the viewers with the impression that some of the whales such as Takara and Kalina were collected when they very young, an insinuation that SeaWorld has insistently objected through media (Muller, 2016). The underlying fact is that the documentary intended to put the activities of SeaWorld in bad light as it portrayed that the company was still involved with collecting whales at the time of making the documentary.
The release of the documentary attracted backlashes from the public. In fact, Willie Nelson a rock music artist cancelled an event that was supposed to take place in the SeaWorld in solidarity with those who believed that the corporation should cease its activities and let the whale be free (Ferdman,2014). Marine Park is depicted as a bullying zone for the confined whales as they were forced to entertain visitors in return for fish. Animal rights activists have always been against marine parks in the world. This is main reason why SeaWorld believes that the documentary acted in bad faith by insinuating to the public that the confined animals were not treated well by their trainers. SeaWorld gave a lot of media releases trying to show the public that what was depicted in Blackfish was not what happened in real life (Muller’2016). It accused the documentary of basing its arguments from its former employees who were not familiar with the current corporation’s activities since most of those interviewed left the corporation 20 years earlier (SeaWorld Cares,n.d). The documentary therefore achieved its intended objective of turning the public against the activities of SeaWorld through emotional manipulation of the viewers. The former employees wind up by saying that they do not believe that SeaWorld would will ever release the confined whales. Eventually the company converted the marine park into a conservation park.
- Ferdman, R. (2014). Chart: What the Documentary ‘Blackfish’Has Done to SeaWorld. The Wall Street Journal.
- Müller, N. (2016). Crisis Communication on Social Media–Content Analysis of SeaWorld’s Crisis Communication after the Release of the Documentary Blackfish.
- Beaumont-Thomas, B. (2014). SeaWorld Shares Tumble 33% Following Blackfish Documentary. The Guardian, 14.
- SeaWorld cares n.d, Why “Blackfish” is Propaganda, not a Documentary. Retrieved November 27, 2017 from https://seaworldcares.com/the-facts/truth-about-blackfish/
- The telegram (2017). SeaWorld vs Blackfish: the film that introduced the world to the plight of Tilikum. Retrieved November 27, 2017 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/films/2016/06/04/seaworld-vs-blackfish-the-film-that-saved-the-whales/