As many of you might know, for the past 18 months I’ve been helping documentary film-maker Gabriela Cowperthwaite make a documentary about Tilikum, Dawn Brancheau and SeaWorld. She first contacted me about the idea after reading Killer In The Pool, and the aim of the film is to try and help people understand why Tilikum’s life resulted in Dawn Brancheau’s tragic death.
Now the film is finished. It’s called Blackfish, and it will be shown to an audience for the first time on Saturday evening at the Sundance Film Festival (here’s the film’s page).
We’ve been flying below the radar, but here’s an early mention about the film, in a story about Hollywood and orcas. And Indiewire recommended it as one of 20 films to see. They also posted the only clip of Blackfish to be released so far. It’s the intro to the movie, so just a taste of what follows (click the image to play):
I just arrived in Park City for Sundance, and will soon be joined by the full production team as well as many of the trainers interviewed in the film. I’ll be posting about the premiere and the Sundance experience over the coming week, so stay tuned. In the meantime, here is Gabriela talking about Blackfish:
21 thoughts on “Blackfish Is About To Premiere At Sundance”
Blackfish – the preview makes my heart race, goose bumps,
and I was holding my breath. Please keep us posted. Thank you
I so look forward to seeing this film! After reading everything possible written about that fatal day, I have come to the conclusion that Tilly attacked his trainer because he was called over to the viewing window during his relationship time with Dawn. He was already aggravated by something unknown that was going on with the whales that day, and when the relationship time that he desperately needed was interrupted, sent him over the edge and he had a major temper tantrum, grabbed his trainer as if to say she is mine and I am busy with her. He was known to be very possessive and was deprived of socializing with the other whales because they picked on him. He’s stuck in a pool by himself and didn’t get enough interaction. I think if he hadn’t been called over to the viewing window during his quiet time with his trainer nothing would have happened. He was obviously very very angry, but I don’t think he meant to kill her, but was angry enough that he continued ramming her body hard after she was already dead and even then did not want to let go of her, and shook her violently when they tried to get her out of his mouth. What people may not know is that he was abused at his previous facility in Canada, was deprived of food if he didn’t do tricks right and made to sleep in a dark metal container alone from 8 pm until 8 am daily. The attack on his first trainer was out of anger at being abused. Orcas are incredibly smart and know what’s going on and they probably don’t want to do demeaning tricks all day long. They are treated like circus animals and they are smart enough to know that. When Seaworld says they can’t force them to do tricks they are right. Orcas will only do tricks if they feel like it. Tilly didn’t want to go to the viewing window that day. He wanted to continue having private time with his trainer. I feel so sorry for him for he is now the loneliest whale in the world.
Simple answer for all of these Orca issues. Let them go! They do not belong in a fishtank doing stupid human tricks. Their homes are in the oceans!
We need to learn to stop looking down upon them, to stop thinking of them as being less intelligent than we are, less evolved than we are. Within THEIR environment, they are far more evolved, in most every way, than humans. When we stop looking down upon them and respect them as sentient, sapient, sovereign beings, we will be able to have positive relationships with them. No orca has EVER attacked a human in the wild, though more than a few have chosen to have moments or even relatings with us. (Let’s not forget that orcas are the largest of the dolphins, and MANY dolphins have chosen to have relationships with humans.)
I must agree with Dorothy Rodgers in saying that they MUST be free. We must not keep them captive “for their own sakes” either. That is not for us to decide. They CAN survive and thrive in the ocean. Meanwhile, we are clearly NOT capable of providing for them properly in captivity. No wild orca has the telltale drooping dorsal fin, for just one example.
The more you know about them, the more clear it becomes that we have no business imposing our desires upon these beings.
Protecttheocean, I don’t think anyone looks down upon them. They are way too physically powerful for that. And while putting them back in the ocean sounds wonderful it is an irresponsible thing to do and cost Keiko his life after living only 2 years in the wild. Once an orca has been in captivity for a long period of time, his pod doesn’t want him anymore therefore he is left to be completely alone. Orcas don’t like to be alone as they are very social creatures. Once they are put back in the wild after they have been depending upon humans and made friends with humans, they will keep going to look for humans to be with in the wild because they don’t want to be alone. Keiko died because he kept going to shore to look for humans and caught pneumonia, beached himself and was euthanized. Even in the wild, once a resident orca looses his pod, he will go to shore to look for humans to befriend, such as with Luna and Springer. Luna was killed by a tugboat because he wouldn’t stay away from boats he was so lonely. Luckily Springer was able to be put back with her pod because she wasn’t gone for long. Luna didn’t have that opportunity because the Canadian government wouldn’t let the US take him back. The best thing we could have done with Keiko is let him live out his life in a sea pen on US shores where he could be protected and still have access to humans for companionship. Tilly can’t be put back in the wild because half of his teeth are ground down and he’s been in captivity so long his pod will never take him back. For all of you who think it’s better for them to be alone in the wild than in captivity, you are demeaning them by only viewing them as an animal with no feelings, instead of the intelligent beings they are with emotions and a strong desire to socialize, and frankly giving opinions on something you know nothing about because it sounds ideal. It’s this kind of stupid ideology that cost Keiko his life.
Wrong. Keiko lived 2 years in the wild, on his own. He got pneumonia, and that DISEASE took his life. If anything was a factor, it was all the time in captivity. Nevertheless, I give them credit to know that they’d rather have 2 years of freedom than 20 years in a concrete puddle. That you could possibly think otherwise is stupid ideology.
Yes, people look down on them. That people enslave them and don’t see it as such is looking down on them. That they think they have the right to take a sentient, sapient being from its natural home for their own purposes and entertainment demonstrates that they do not respect them. All your justifications, no matter what they may be, ignore the simple fact that they have been kidnapped, stolen. We have NO right to them.
Something I know nothing about? You REALLY need to get your facts straight, and find out who you’re addressing before you run on at the fingers. All of your trivia seems to have given you no understanding of these beings. Who do you think you are, to decide what is best for them?
Here’s the only offer I’ll make: Use the sea pen as a halfway house, per se. Perform what some call a Tame Hack, and let them decide if they want to stay when they have the liberty of coming and going.
From now on, keep your insults to yourself or I’ll decide you’re as foolish as your presumptions make you look and just ignore you entirely.
Lady, you’re the one barking up the wrong tree. I study orcas and whales. I have incredible knowledge about them and I did say Keiko lived 2 years in the wild where he caught pneumonia and died. That was the loneliest 2 years of his life which is why he kept going to shore looking for people. I also mentioned “resident” orcas which don’t like to be alone, not “transient” which are used to roaming in small pods. It’s “resident” orcas which are the ones in captivity. There have only been 2 transients in captivity and they are both dead. Transient orcas probably wouldn’t mind being alone in the wild, but resident orcas need socialization whether it be human or animal. Transients are the black sheep of the orca family and residents will attack transients if they see them in their area. Transients are completely different, they just look the same. I knew the Keiko experiment would not work because he was too used to people. Are you aware how he was treated when he arrived in Iceland? Are you aware that Naomi Rose of the HSUS demanded his caretakers not have any contact with him, to not even look at him in Iceland? Do you realize how incredibly cruel that was? You probably don’t think anything is wrong with that because you are incapable of seeing that animals are emotional beings. Keiko loved people and all of a sudden, they didn’t want anything to do with him. Whether you want to believe it or not, orcas have feelings. They are emotional creatures. They just can’t speak in our language, so they use other means of communicating. There was a captured orca named Namu. He was more of a pet for his captor. He loved his captor and would wrap his fins around him to hold him. He loved when people rode him and didn’t want them to get off. You sound like one of those naturalists who really think animals are just animals. I give them much more credibility than that. They are living, breathing creatures with emotions just like we have, they just can’t express them the same way. Whether you like it or not, most animals enjoy interacting with humans whether it be whales, orcas, dogs and cats. Grey whales in Mexico enjoy being kissed and petted and seek it out. That’s right, kissed and petted. Why don’t you go there and try it. You have a very small mind and not capable of thinking outside the box. I wouldn’t want to be your pet that’s for sure.
First off, (and again you demonstrate your ignorance,) I’m neither a lady nor female. Secondly, your presumptions continue to astound. What did you study? WHERE did you study? You presume to school me? Would you school Ric or Chris Porter too? Yes, I’m eminently familiar with the “conditioning” he received. I’m also aware of some pretty stupid stunts that a certain “trainer” pulled, including teaching him to tip over a rubber raft while he (that trainer) was in it. FYI, my firsthand, hands-on experience goes back as far as the early 1980’s and Marineland. So you might want to put a sock in your ego and a pair of mittens on those fingers. Heck, you might even learn something.
“He loved his captor”? Seriously? You suffering from Battered Wife Syndrome or something? THEN you dare to tell me that I don’t see them as emotional beings. That had me chuckling for a moment. Most who know me at all would have been rolling on the floor and out into the aisles, because I’m the guy who insists that cetaceans are the marine version of people (only better.)
YOU are the one who can’t see that they are SOVEREIGN beings, and that we have NO right to choose for them. YOU are the one who thinks humans should decide what is best, and you do so based on a human perspective.
While I’m educating you, cetaceans are not fond of hugs. They don’t do them in the wild. Their skin being part of their means of experiencing the world, it’s a bit like someone putting their fingers over your eyes. What they do in the wild are bumps, taps… touches, but not holding nor covering. Try paying attention to them in their natural state, since you claim to have studied so much. Cousteau had it right when he said that studying cetaceans in captivity tells one about as much about them as studying humans in prison tells the observer about human beings.
Hayley-lolita got it right. We have no business, no right, to enslave them. Once that damage has been done, what we owe them is to stop standing on their feet, per se, to release them. Shall I remind you of the successful releases? A couple Pilots in the 80’s, as I recall, Tom & Misha (dolphins) in Turkey about a year back… Lolita is ignored by trainers regularly, even when she tries to get attention from them. You think that’s a GOOD life for an emotional being? To have the poor excuse of humans that you can’t communicate with properly, can’t swim with, can’t touch without extreme care/caution…? Now who is it who is selling them short?
Cetaceans are their own, and certainly smart enough to decide for themselves where they want to be. Sure, some will enjoy human contact, much the way we enjoy cetacean contact. But how long do you think it would take before you grew aggravated about it if cetacean contact was ALL you had for days, weeks, months, years? No conversations, no interactions, nothing of your old life, just a little concrete prison the size of a closet and people coming by to feed you, command you, touch you a few times… on their terms, when THEY wanted to.
I’m not replying to you. You get the last word, if you want it. What I’ve written here does a fine job of providing proper perspective. So if you love them as much as you claim to, love them enough to fight for their freedom, and learn to RESPECT them enough AS EQUALS AND ADULTS, to stop trying to parent them.
I’ll also add that there are such things as transient males (you’ve heard of them?) and even in smaller dolphin species, there are males which go solo for an extended period of time. We are not proper companionship for an orca. We are no more than a feeble substitute, another sentient being… but we’re fragile, we can’t really swim (by their standards,) we don’t speak the same language, live in the same environment, or even view the world the same way. (Theirs is a 3-D world where the atmosphere is the ceiling, where as we live in a 2-D world where the earth is our floor. They echo-locate, and we’re lucky we hear at all, by their standards, for example.) So no, it’s just a shadow, nothing like a pod. Better than nothing,but not better than freedom. Let THEM choose. Do not presume to choose for them.
I am sure you asked Keiko, if he could have 20 years in a concrete tub .. with no life, or a few years in big open spaces, currents, waves, ocean life, he would of chose the ocean, he died free. doesn’t matter if he days days later, he should never of been caught in the first place. sick of people throwing that in as some sort of reasoning to keep others locked in a pool for the rest of their lives. IT IS WRONG… and the whales if they knew would not appreciate such crap from yo
Hayley-lolita, you’re missing my point. I do not believe in captivity or of them being captured period! Makes me very sad to see them swimming in a small pool, especially Lolita in Miami. That is heart breaking as well as Tilly at Seaworld. I feel so very very sorry for him. I can’t visit Lolita in Miami as it is way too sad to see her sitting there so depressed because she has no companion and her pool is way too small. But the point I have been trying to make is that once they have lived in captivity for years, you can’t put them back in the wild. It does not work. Keiko is a perfect example of that. The best you can do at that point is put them in a sea pen. When they’ve been away for years their pods don’t want them back. They are very social creatures and need companionship, not transient orcas, but resident orcas. All of you ganging up on me really have no understanding of these creatures. Trust me, Keiko died a very lonely orca. He kept going to shore because he was desperate for socialization. Since he couldn’t get it from his pod, he sought out people. At one point when he reached the shore it froze over and he became trapped, and it was him going to shore looking for people is where he caught pneumonia, beached himself and was euthanized. I spend hours and hours researching these animals in the wild and in captivity. I know them inside and out and love them dearly and the last thing I want for them is captivity. But I am a realist and live in reality. It is irresponsible to put them back in the wild after they’ve spent years in captivity. It does not work. End of story.
Someone please shut that blow-hard up? Keiko is one example, and still had 2 years of freedom during which he ate, hunted, lived, crossed the bloody Atlantic on his own… and there are SEVERAL other success stories that this “chanelgal” either missed or purposefully ignored. That whole “once captive always captive” BS is straight out of a SeaWorld PR campaign.
Hours and hours? Inside and out? You haven’t the first clue. Stop spewing that BS. How much does SW pay you to post that nonsense anyway?
chanelgal – I agree with your first post about Tilly losing it and grabbing Dawn when the call to pose for photos pushed him over the edge. That showed great insight, but I think you don’t have the whole picture about Keiko. If the Keiko project had understood in the mid 1990s how important it was to conduct the field research to locate his family. If he had been released in the near proximity of his immediate family they may have eventually taken him back. It’s possible his family didn’t survive the captures, and it’s also possible he actually did meet up with them and was rejected, we will never know, but in the absence of rejoining his family the best treatment for him and probably for most captive orcas would be long term care and human companionship somewhere on the coast of Iceland. There’s no record that he was euthanized.
One of the reasons why Keiko was alone after he was released was because the proper time wasn’t taken for him to be reintroduced to his pod. Freedom outranks captivity regardless. Tilikum can’t be released because of the length he has been in captivity and because he is missing most of his teeth??? Really. On what experience do you base that on? Tilikum can be released. Any of the wild caught Orcas can-especially if their pod is located and the time is taken for them to be reintroduced back to that pod on their OWN terms and time. His pod won’t remember him? Are you serious or just plain uneducated ? Tilikum’s pod is out there. And FYI: Tilikum is a transient. Rehabilitation is all that is required- for any of them . That and funding.
chanelgal: “Are you aware that Naomi Rose of the HSUS demanded his caretakers not have any contact with him, to not even look at him in Iceland? Do you realize how incredibly cruel that was?”
For anyone who has volunteered or worked as a wildlife rehabber, this is not surprising. It is standard practice to reduce contact with an animal as it approaches the release date and then eliminate contact altogether. Yes, it is initially difficult. Some animals will attempt to gain the attention of people because it previously resulted in positive reinforcement. It’s called an extinction burst. However, they get over it if the caretaker holds firm and I’ve noticed that it is the rehabber who usually suffers the most.
No one can know if animals view relationships with humans as being meaningful, for lack of a better word. To assume that they want to be around us or derive emotional satisfaction from contact with us seems to me to be the height of hubris as it is the assumption that we are indispensible to them in some way.
I do agree that cetaceans bred in captivity are probably not fit for complete release due to not having a wild pod or even knowing appropriate wild behaviors. Also, the orcas, at least, are not what I would consider genetically solid stock and introducing inbred animals into a wild population seems unwise from a genetcs standpoint. For them, being maintained in a sea pen is probably the best option coupled with ending breeding programs and allowing the captive population to die out naturally.
The ones who were captured, however, should have a shot at regaining their wildness. Just because Keiko died sooner than any of us would have liked it is no reason not to try again. What responsible rehabbers do is learn from what went right and what went wrong and use that information to improve the chances of the next animal.
As for stranded animals, guidelines used for the rehabilitation of other wild animals should be employed. This would be why some of the rehabilitation efforts of marine parks make my skin crawl. The staff members have far too much contact with the animals for wildness to be maintained. (Somehow, I think that’s the point. Then they can claim that the animal is unfit to be released because it is dependent on humans, you know, because they made it that way.)
To all of my haters, I am a life long vegetarian and animal rights activist. I do not believe any animals should be killed for food. My love of animals is so great I can not eat them and the smell of animal flesh cooking makes me sick. I bet most of you can’t say that you don’t eat meat because you love animals that much. You have painted me out to be a monster because I don’t agree you can take an orca that has been in captivity for years and put them back in the wild. I do not believe in captivity and I would never work for a marine park. Most of you didn’t even pay attention to what I wrote and the reasoning behind it, you just saw “can’t put them back in the wild” and went on the attack. From many of the statements here I can see that not all of you know what you’re talking about such as Tillikum being a transient. That is something Seaworld puts out to explain his responsibility for 3 human deaths. Tillikum is a fish eating resident orca. Icelandic orcas where he comes from are residents, not transients. Half of his teeth have been drilled down to a pulp called a pulpotomy. This is something Seaworld does when they get bad teeth. I have discussed this with veterinarians who specialize is animal teeth, one who is in charge of a division of the Department of Agriculture because it is of great concern for me. Have any of you gone to that length to discuss Tillikum’s teeth with a director at the Department of Agriculture? Have any of you attempted to do anything for him? Because half of his teeth being ground down to the pulp, he is not a candidate for release. If you study photos of his teeth as I have, you can clearly see half are down to the pulp. Tillikum very much needs to be freed but how can he fend for himself when half of his teeth are gone? I am also concerned he is in pain because of the pulpotomy’s, and this could have been an aggravating factor in Mrs. Brancheau’s death.
Regarding Keiko, he was in fact put with his pod, and he swam behind them, never with them. They either didn’t know him or he was too shy to join them, so he lagged along behind, and yes he did swim around the Atlantic, “alone”. And if he was so happy alone and free as all of you presume, why did he continue swimming to shore to find people he could interact with? It is well known he was euthanized and his care takers were there with him. I remember when it happened and was very upset. Not all of the experts, including his trainers agreed he was a candidate for release. His trainers that were rehabilitating him in Iceland were upset about the whole thing and did not agree with it and especially how it was being conducted.
To the “man” who used to work at Marineland…Marineland Canada is one of the worst marine parks in the world. The animals are so ill, some going blind, the water dirty, they don’t get the proper care, and the worst offense out of many was keeping that poor orca “Junior” in an above ground swimming pool in a warehouse, and left him there for years until he went insane and died. Since you worked for Marineland and profess to care about orcas, what did you do to help poor Junior? I grieve every single day for that poor whale, sometimes to the point it’s unbearable. If I had known about him at the time I would have gone there and protested daily and done everything in my power to get him freed. If you worked there, shame on you, you are a true piece of shit. You have no business lecturing me and should not be advertising you worked at such a horrendous place.
To Mr. Garrett, I agree that the Icelandic captive orcas could be put off the coast of Iceland, maybe in sea pens where they could have some freedom, but yet continue to be cared for by humans. That would be the safest way to do a slow release into the wild. But unfortunately getting approval from the Icelandic government would be tough. They did not want Keiko back for fear he would bring disease to the wild orca population and they do allow whale slaughter there so don’t have the same caring for marine animals as we do here in the US. It’s also possible they could still allow orca captures there. They’re transferred to other nations and eventually make their way back to the US as being “on loan” to Seaworld. If I could have my way, I would put all the captive orcas on the US west coast in sea pens, until they could gradually be released into the wild, but we all know Seaworld will never release any of them. I have seen videos of orca, dolphin and other small whale captures and it’s horrific. I am also boycotting everything Japanese because of their continued whale and dolphin slaughters.
Okay. I am not a “hater” 😀 I apologise if I came across as harsh. I think that it is wonderful that you care so much and I commend you for being a vegetarian. I am one myself. Tilikum does have poor dental health. However if he were ever able to be rehabilitated his teeth could be repaired. The main reason why they aren’t repaired in captivity is because he will just break them all over again. SeaPrison isn’t willing to pay for that -obviously.Iceland has resident and transient Orcas both in their waters. Tilikum IS a transient. The fact that he is tied to human deaths has NOTHING to do with his being from a transient pod. They don’t eat humans. 😀 Transients eat fish and other mammals and they travel as a pod. They don’t stay-like the residents do but they DO return.
If Tilikum were ever released I believe that under the right conditions and with the correct kind of rehabilitation he would do fine IF he was held in a seapen in his home waters until his pod came back around. They would know him. They would recogonize his vocals. Orcas are as intelligent-if not more intelligent then we are. If his mother didn’t take him in someone else in the pod would.
I believe that Keiko was handled incorrectly. There was way to much media and fanfare and then there was that tracking device as well. The whole thing came off as being in a hurry to get him back into the ocean because “everyone” was watching and then it was more about media and less about Keiko and what was good for him and timely for him. In the beginning Iceland had good reason to be concerned about Keiko transferring anything that he might have to the wild population there but if I recall it ended up being Iceland in the end who declared Keiko a citizen of Iceland’s waters. Since Keiko, Orcas are protected there and captures are illegal.
batwomyn, I commend you as well for being a vegetarian! I was not aware Tilly’s teeth could be fixed, and have never read anything like this and curious as to how you discovered this. If this is true then by all means I think he should be released even if he has to be alone. He is so unhappy and depressed and lives a horrible life at Seaworld, has no socialization being that he’s separated from the other orcas. I am very aware that orcas do not eat or attack people in the wild. Even when being captured they were docile and never attacked their captors even though they could have fought back. In the past after I read that Seaworld said Tilly was a transient, I searched and searched and could not find anything anywhere stating Iceland has transients and wondering where you found that information. Studying orcas is my hobby because I have such a great love for them. I think they are amazing and incredibly smart, and agree they are just as intelligent as we are if not more intelligent. I read everything I can about them thru books, the internet and documentaries. I first learned about them 15 years ago while taking a class on rehabilitating stranded marine mammals such as dolphins and small whales so I could be a volunteer. The teacher was the orca trainer at Miami Seaquarium. He was telling stories and some were so touching that I actually cried in class, and was amazed that he taught Lolita to go to the bathroom on command so they could take weekly vitals. Some of the other people there were also trainers and I can say they genuinely love those animals. It’s hard for me to understand if they love them so much, how can they treat them like circus animals. I can’t go back to Miami Seaquarium because I can’t bear to see Lolita in that small tank. It’s evident she is also very unhappy and sits listlessly at the bottom of the tank. It’s also sad to think most of her pod was wiped out due to captures.
While I will continue studying orcas in my free time my newest project is trying to get backyard slaughter stopped in Florida. I went to the HSUS for help and they refuse to get involved because there aren’t millions being killed this way, only hundreds. They sent an email and won’t even return my calls. I wrote Jane Velez asking for her help and nothing from her either. They are killing everything from rabbits to horses. I wish Tim would do an article on this as it needs to be publicized nationally. You can read about it here:
This will be brief: It was Marineland of the Pacific, S.Cal… and ALL such facilities are unacceptable. No matter how much they are prettied up by OUR sight, a cetacean doesn’t perceive the world the way we do. It’s just a maddening concrete cell.
As to the rest of your guilt trip, lady, that was in the early 1980’s, half a lifetime ago. So I join the ranks of Ric and (more recently) Chris Porter, those who saw them for what they really are and LEFT because I couldn’t be a part of that. If you bothered to do your homework at all (as I have done on you,) you’d also note that I founded Protect The Ocean, and have been an activist (including DI w/ Greenpeace, back when) for decades. An avid waterman, sailor, SCUBA diver and biologist, also vegan (what are you waiting for? Make the rest of the connection,) in attacking me you’re REALLY barking up the wrong tree. But I tried to tell you that a while ago.
This isn’t about you. Or me. It’s about us (our species) and how we MUST police ourselves, so that we don’t do THEM any further harm. It’s ultimately about how we walk gently and peacefully with our fellow Earthlings, especially the non-human ones.
Yes, dental caps, etc. Even without, he can still manage to make a living well enough. They’re killing him, and the rest. That’s what captivity does. Captivity kills.
I live in Miami FL and have a very beautiful bond with the Orca Lolita (Tokie) @ the Miami seaquarium. I would like to know when this movie will air in Miami. My dream was to be a SeaWorld Killer whale trainer. But by the time I turned 11 I started seeing Things in lolita that made me think. And the magic of the show died. Now I just go to see her and take pictures of her. She is really special to me. My family has told me to stop going to visit her at the park. But in my hear I can!. Its hurtful. I have been around this whale my whole life. Its like turning my back on her. Even though Im only a park guest. I would like to see this Documentary. I already saw (Lolita a Slave to Entertainment) & (A Fall from Freedom).
Be sure to get in for free, Adelen, so you’re not paying Hertz to keep her. Thanks for your support. As you know, they ignore her so much of the time…