If you have not yet watched ‘Blackfish’ (2013), please go to your nearest available Netflix and spend the next hour doing so. The documentary was premiered at Sundance Film Festival in January of that year and is a prime example of a well executed and emotive project to make audiences aware of a specific issue.
Documenting the capture and following life of killer whale Tilikum as a performer at USA’s Seaworld, ‘Blackfish’ gives insight into the mistreatment of orca’s in Seaworld, the tragic deaths of several Seaworld trainers during shows and how Seaworld withheld information from their own employees. Not for anyone seeking some lighthearted entertainment, ‘Blackfish’ was one of those pieces that make you lose faith in humanity. In cases of animals killing humans, human life is constantly placed at a higher value over animal life, and we solve cases of animals causing harm to humans my terminating the animal’s life.
The fact of the ‘Blackfish’ matter is, had Tilikum never been captured and taken from the wild, he would never have been responsible for deaths in the first place. Affirming the argument for nurture over nature, the mistreatment and poor environment that Tilikum was kept in for his life was the reason he felt the need to kill; there was no other way that he could communicate his frustration. For Tilikum, the trainers were his source of food and companionship and therefore integral to his survival. At the same time, however, to him they would have been the ones responsible for his extremely diminished quality of life and separation from his community and natural environment.
Seaworld displayed a total disregard to life, both human and animal, all in the name of profit, along with an ignorance of the ramifications of interfering with the natural order. Not only did they heartlessly tear these whales away from their communities, there was a huge OH&S issue when they covered up deaths as “drownings” and did not make their employees aware of the risks involved in their jobs or the deaths of trainers at other Seaworld locations. On top of this, Seaworld was giving false information to their employees about the orca’s, who then communicated this information to Seaworld visitors. Employees believed that killer whales lives around 30-40 years, when in the wild they had life spans similar to that of a human and lived to about 100 years. Their lives in captivity were so poor that the whale’s health would extremely deteriorate and they would only live out less than half of their expected life span.
What would make anyone think that they are entitled to interfere with the life of another and change their natural course? It’s the widely held belief that humans are separate from animals and hold a much higher value. In historic examples such as the Stolen Generation, it is completely unjust for humans to be forcefully taken from their homes and communities and spend their lives away from their families. This is constantly done in the wild, for our food and entertainment, but we largely turn a blind eye.
Some would argue that that is the way of the world; we have to eat, therefore killing is necessary. In the case of ‘Blackfish’, however, this argument is completely redundant. Humans can certainly go without the whale shows, and with today’s technology there are numerous other ways of bringing simulations of a live underwater experience to crowds. We’ve all been to the zoo and the aquarium, but our lives would not be in any way diminished if those experiences didn’t exist in the first place. Human greed was the only reason that Tilikum was captured and taken from his environment.
What’s interesting to examine is the relationship between humans, animals and the environment. We were all put here to survive together yet humans have established themselves as superior. Without us, however, the world would keep spinning. In terms of the mistreatment to animals, where do we draw the line? Under capturing killer whales but over the poor treatment and slaughter of animals for our food? How have we figured out this hierarchy – in survival of the fittest, how would humans compare?